New rules proposed by WA Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) would add vocational recovery services as the first services provided by vocational rehabilitation counselors (VRCs) in most State Fund cases. This would replace the current early intervention services, with similar steps to be taken. The intent is to better align the rules with the state law that places a high priority on returning a worker to employment after an injury.
Vocational Recovery Services
In recent years, L&I has made significant changes intended to reduce process delays so that vocational providers can more effectively engage injured workers, employers, and medical providers before long-term disability sets in. Reported results include higher return-to-work rates and reduced costs for L&I.
For an injured worker, the effect of these changes is that a vocational counselor is assigned to their claim early in the process. VRC’s are tasked with a multi-step effort to try to return the injured worker to employment as soon as possible after an injury, either with the employer of injury, a past employer or a new one. The VRC may obtain work and education history from the worker as well as physical restrictions from the attending physician. Any proposed job offers are run by the physician for review and approval or modifications, if appropriate.
Often, once these initial steps are done, the VRC will remain assigned to the claim to monitor progress with treatment and continue with efforts towards returning the worker to some type of work, as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for us to see VRCs stay on a claim even when surgery is on the horizon.
Vocational Recovery Services – Review Proposed Changes
The proposed rules are available for review on L&I’s website for rule development.
The Proposed Rule Making notice, with explanations of the changes and the expected effect of those changes, can be found here. The full text of the existing rules along with proposed changes and additions can be found here.
Provide your input to L&I
Changes in vocational rules have the potential to impact the benefits received by an injured worker, both monetary and vocational. For this reason, I recommend that you review the proposed rule changes and provide your input to the Department of Labor and Industries during the public comment period, which closed on October 4th.
You may provide input in writing by email, mail, or fax through 6 p.m. on Oct. 4th. You may also participate in a public hearing at 10 a.m. on Oct. 2 at the Department of Labor and Industries in Tumwater. L&I will consider all input before preparing the final rules this fall.