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Vocational Rehabilitation: Key Stepping Stones

This article provides a brief overview of the key stepping stones for all vocational rehabilitation (VR) applicants and consumers of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) and Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB).

There may be exceptions based on individual circumstances that aren’t addressed here. We strongly encourage you to contact the Massachusetts Office on Disability’s Client Assistance Program (CAP) at 617-727-7440 or online at https://www.mass.gov/forms/contact-us to have a confidential conversation about any concerns you have. CAP is free and independent of MRC and MCB.

What is vocational rehabilitation?

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a process that is composed of different services to help a qualified person with a disability achieve competitive integrated employment and economic self-sufficiency. Services almost always include counseling and guidance from trained VR counselors and job-related services such as job search and placement assistance. Other services such as training and transportation may be provided depending on an individual’s employment goal and VR needs.

Application

 To apply and receive VR services, you must be present in Massachusetts and legally authorized to work in the U.S. Here are some links for various offices and centers that have VR applications available:

Area offices may ask you to participate in a group orientation as part of a referral process. While this is not required under federal regulations, the orientation can be a helpful introduction. You can find the applicable federal regulations here: https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=9d2392641d4164fad95c74fca263f1da&mc=true&node=pt34.2.361&rgn=div5%20-%20se34.2.361_148)

Assessment and Eligibility Determination

 After submitting your application, MRC/MCB has 60 days to conduct an assessment and send you a written determination of your eligibility and priority category. Your priority category only matters if MRC/MCB establishes wait lists for services due to lack of funding.

Basic eligibility requirements are that you have a physical or mental impairment, that this impairment constitutes or results in a substantial impediment to employment, and that you require VR services to achieve your employment goal. Recipients of Social Security disability benefits (SSI and/or SSDI) are presumed eligible.

Eligibility is not based on your type of disability, age, sex, race, color, national origin, expected employment outcome, referral source, service needs or their cost, income, employment history or status, or educational status or current credential(s).

The Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE)

 Once you are determined eligible and assigned a priority category, MRC/MCB has 90 days to develop your IPE with you (you can develop a draft yourself but MRC/MCB still approves it). Your IPE contains key information including your employment goal, the services needed to help you achieve your goal, who provides those services, and how much each party pays for them. How much you must pay depends on your income and assets unless you receive SSI and/or SSDI, in which case you are not obligated to pay anything. Certain services you do not pay for no matter your income or assets such as VR counseling and guidance, referrals, and personal assistance services or auxiliary aids necessary for you to participate in a VR service given your disability (e.g., an interpreter or reader).

You and your counselor must each sign your IPE and any subsequent amendments to that IPE. MRC/MCB must also give you a copy of your signed IPE and amendments. The IPE not only keeps everyone on the same page about your employment plan but also serves as crucial evidence should you appeal an agency decision. You and your counselor must jointly review your IPE at least once a year.

Case Closure

If after 90 days of employment, you and your counselor are satisfied with your employment outcome and agree you’re performing well, MRC/MCB can close your case with written notice. In some cases, it may be necessary to extend this period beyond 90 days to ensure the stability of the employment outcome and that you no longer need VR services. If MRC/MCB closes your case for any other reason and you disagree with their decision, please contact CAP to discuss your case confidentially.

Appeals

You can appeal any MRC/MCB decision about your VR eligibility or services but we strongly encourage you to contact CAP as soon as you start having any concerns. We may be able to offer guidance or assistance with resolving a matter before it gets to the appeal stage. If not and depending on the merits of your case, we may represent you in an appeal hearing.

Written By:


Client Assistance Program (CAP) Advocate

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