Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors: Friend or Foe?
Any injured worker whose restrictions become permanent from the work injury they suffered will then be eligible for vocational rehabilitation (hereinafter “VR”). See NRS 616C.590. If the employer is not in the position to offer a permanent light duty offer, the injured worker is entitled to VR. The injured worker will be assigned a VR counselor to begin looking at options of work that interest them. This generally means that the injured worker will be going back to some vocational training which includes schooling and possibly job placement assistance.
How much schooling and for how long is generally dependent on what percentage of permanent partial disability (hereinafter “PPD”) rating the injured worker obtained in their own case. NRS 616C.555. The law states if the injured worker suffers a permanent disability with a permanent physical impairment of one percent (1%) or more, but less than 6 percent (6%), the injured worker is entitled to nine (9) months of schooling. Id. If the injured worker has incurred a permanent physical impairment of 6 percent (6%) or more, but less than 11 percent (11%), the injured worker is entitled to one (1) year. Id. Lastly, if the injured worker has incurred a permanent physical impairment of 11 percent (11%) or more, the injured worker is entitled to eighteen (18) months. Id.
Although this seems very straightforward, complications may arise. These complications typically arise with the VR counselor themselves. Pursuant to Nev. Rev. Stat. 616C.542, VR counselors are prohibited from 1) Offering payment of compensation in a lump sum in lieu of the provision of vocational rehabilitation services to an injured employee: (a)Without providing written notice of the offer to the Attorney for the injured employee; or (b)If the injured employee is not represented by an Attorney, without providing a written notice to the employee which satisfies the requirements of the notice required by paragraph (c) of subsection 3 of NRS 616C.595; 2) Offer any monetary payment to an injured employee in an amount that is less than the amount authorized by the insurer; 3) Make any false statement or implication that an injured employee must make a decision regarding vocational rehabilitation within a certain period of time; 4) Advise an insured or claimant not to seek legal counsel; or 5) Provide legal advice to a claimant.
One of the most common complaints I receive from injured workers is that the VR counselor is attempting to force them into schooling that the injured worker is not interested in. This is fairly consistent among a select group of VR counselors and certainly does not mean that all of the VR counselors do this. For example, if the injured worker begins to explore the VR process and the VR counselor does not have the actual PPD rating, some VR counselors insist on the injured worker only looking at nine (9) month program, the minimum allowed by law. This is despite the fact that the Attorney for the injured worker may have a fairly accurate indication what PPD rating the injured worker is going to receive. Often times, some VR counselors will not attempt to obtain the information, or even worse not ask the Attorney for more information, and simply force the injured worker to move forward in the process only looking at the minimum allowance by law because they do not have the PPD rating yet. This then results in the injured worker feeling forced or pushed in to programs the injured worker is not interested in, especially when the injured worker may be aware that their forthcoming PPD rating is qualifies them for more.
On the other hand, there are good VR counselors who are focused solely on priorities of the injured worker, which is what the law requires. See NRS 616C.530. Many of the VR counselors have impressive backgrounds and are able to work with the injured worker to place them into fields of work not only that they qualify for, but enjoy. The best relationship between the injured worker and the VR counselor must be built on trust. If the injured worker (and Attorney if applicable) trusts the VR counselor, then the law is operating precisely how it is supposed to.
This is a very important step in the injured worker’s case. Injured workers should seek an experienced Attorney regarding eligibility of VR and all other applicable benefits. The experienced Attorney will not only be able to give guidance on this process, but also all other laws associated with work injuries.