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Nov 30, 2015

More flexibility coming for vocational rehabilitation benefits in Washington

DisabilityWorkers’ Comp 

The Department of Labor & Industries announced that it will be implementing changes in its vocational rehabilitation benefits, in response to action taken by the Legislature earlier this year.

The Department of Labor & Industries announced that it will be implementing changes in its vocational rehabilitation benefits, in response to action taken by the Legislature earlier this year. The new rule will offer greater flexibility and customization as well as allow a longer period of time for workers eligible for retraining to opt out of their program and elect what is known as “option 2.” 

Vocational rehabilitation benefits are designed to get injured workers back to work as quickly as possible after they suffer an industrial injury that makes it impossible for them to return to their original job. If an injured worker is unable to work due to an industrial injury, L&I may refer them to a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC) to determine if they are eligible for retraining and, if so, develop a training plan for a new job. The VRC will discuss with the worker the vocational process and the options available. Once the training plan is approved by L&I, there are two options:

  • Option 1 is to participate in the plan approved by L&I.
  • Option 2 allows access to training funds for up to 5 years, which can be used by the worker to develop a plan on their own. 

During this process, time loss benefits will continue while the worker is actively and successfully undergoing a formal program of vocational rehabilitation. A vocational plan may be authorized for a maximum of 2 years. 

The vocational option 2 award is a monetary award of temporary total disability compensation, which is based on a worker’s monthly compensation rate on the date the Option 2 benefit is granted. The award will be paid in biweekly payments until the award is paid in full, which includes any applicable cost-of-living adjustments. Option 2 benefits will increase from six months to nine months of time loss payments under the new rules.

The vocational option 2 also includes training funds, which can be used for any training through an accredited, licensed, or department-approved training program or institution. The funds can be used for tuition, books, fees, supplies, equipment, and tools, as well as vocational counseling and job placement services if the plan was approved on or after July 31, 2015.

The highest priority is to return injured workers to employment as quickly as possible, benefiting both the injured worker and the employer. Study after study reveals that injured workers feel more valued by their organization and actually recover faster when they return to work. The employer benefits by retaining skills and knowledge in the injured worker, along with reducing the costs of lost production, recruiting and training new staff to cover the role. The impact of the claim on the employers rating and premiums is also reduced.

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