What are Vocational Services and Vocational Retraining in my claim?

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If you have a workers’ compensation claim or L&I claim in Washington State, you might receive vocational services. These services and benefits fall under the Industrial Insurance Act. However, they are complex because they are discretionary. This means that the director of L&I grants these benefits on a case-by-case basis.

Vocational services in an L&I claim

The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) conducted several studies surrounding vocational services and retraining. The studies focused on providing vocational services to work injury claimants early in the claim. Interestingly, the studies show that workers return to work much faster after a work injury. Therefore, the current trend is for vocational assessment services to start earlier in the L&I claim process.

For evaluation, vocational counselors are responsible to perform vocational assessments. They are not L&I employees. However, they must follow L&I’s rules and guidelines when they work through the vocational aspects of an L&I claim.

Vocational counselor and your L&I claim

When performing assessments, vocational counselors have to take into consideration the worker’s ability to return to work. Here, there are certain return to work “priorities” they must follow:

1) First, vocational counselor determines if the workplace injury claimant can return to the job of injury, with the same employer. Sometimes, the job of injury isn’t available with the employer, but the worker is capable of performing the same job. In these cases, the vocational counselor will check the labor market to see if the job is available with another employer.

2) Second, when the work injury claimant cannot return to the job of injury, the vocational counselor looks for a different job with the employer of injury. Also, this job must be one that the worker can perform. If not, the vocational counselor looks at the worker’s skill set to see if the worker has “transferable skills”. If they do, then the worker can perform another job within their abilities, in the general labor market.

3) Third, if the worker cannot return to the job of injury and lacks transferable skills, then the vocational counselor explores retraining. The vocational counselor must believe that the work injury claimant can retrain over a two-year period. On top, they believe that retraining will make them employable in their labor market. Assuming the vocational counselor believes retraining may be worthwhile, they will send a recommendation to L&I. The purpose of the recommendation is to approve the retraining plan development.

Retraining under your L&I claim

If L&I approves the retraining plan development, then the vocational counselor will perform a formal assessment. Here, the counselor will assess the worker’s capabilities and interests for retraining. At this phase, it’s critical for workplace injury claimants to invest and engage in the retraining efforts. If a vocational counselor believes that retraining is viable, they must make the recommendation to L&I. This happens regardless of whether the worker likes the retraining goal, or not. Therefore, work injury claimants must advocate for a retraining goal that would be satisfying and fulfilling to them.

Remember, L&I has no obligation to return a work injury victim to a job that pays the same as before. This can be a huge source of angst and frustration. Especially, during the vocational process. Retraining is long and it sets you up for the rest of your life. The retraining plan can take up to 2 years. Make sure you make the best of it. Finally, remember that while you’re undergoing retraining, you still receive time-loss compensation benefits for the entire time.

Additional resources

Additional information about vocational services for your L&I claim or workers’ compensation claim in Washington State can be found in the following articles:

L&I claim vocational benefits: Option 1 versus Option 2

L&I claims – Vocational Counselors and Early Intervention

The Vocational Dispute Resolution or VRDO

Vocational services in Workers’ Compensation L&I claims – The “Plan Development” Phase

Vocational Counselor and Stand Alone Job Analysis in your L&I claim