This week I received a phone call from an injured worker on an Ohio workers compensation claim who suffered a serious work related knee injury last year, underwent three knee surgeries, continues to receive temporary total disability compensation, and, who may be released to return to work in the near future with permanent work restrictions which cannot be accommodated by his present state fund employer. His treating doctor will probably recommend that the injured worker enter the Ohio BWC rehabilitation program. Apparently the doctor (as many doctors do) believes that the BWC will provide retraining of his patient for a new career within the work restrictions.
If this injured worker enters the BWC rehab program he will be entitled to receive living maintenance payments for a while in lieu of temporary total compensation.There are some beneficial features of being in the BWC program.A plan might call for occupational therapy, a work hardening program, efforts to return the worker to another job with the same employer through various programs, job seeking skills and perhaps additional rehab wage loss payments while the injured worker looks for other jobs within his restrictions, education, and work experience. It is the BWC’s position that the injured worker’s full time job is to make good faith job search efforts within the BWC’s rigorous policies, rules and regulations. Otherwise, monetary benefits may be terminated.
So, where are the job training and educational programs within the BWC rehab system to help an injured worker re-enter the job force in a new career? Frankly, such programs are rare.Real job training and career education are basically through the Ohio Rehabilitation Sevice Commission(RSC) and more specifically, through the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation (BVR). However, these state agencies are separate and apart from the BWC. In fact, independent vocational service companies , who have contracts with the BWC, will admit on their websites that only “on rare occasions” do Ohio workers receive job training.In such circumstances, these rarely approved training plans are joint programs offered through the BVR. We currently have only one client enrolled in such a joint program who received computer training and continues to receive living maintenance payments while hopefully being placed in a job utilizing these new skills. Of course, if the worker was employed by a self-insured employer at the time of injury, that employer can voluntary authorize a job training program. As we know, state agency budgets are tight these days.These agencies’ employees are overworked and their programs are often underfunded.
Unfortunately, we have often seen many of our clients go from good paying jobs, suffer serious on-the job injuries, find that they cannot physically return to these jobs or to the same employers, go through the BWC rehab program and come out on the other side frustrated and demeaned by this program and either still unemployed or finding much lower paying unskilled jobs.While the term “vocational rehabilitation” has a positive ring to it, we believe that injured workers and their doctors should have a better understanding as to what the BWC rehab program does and does not offer in returning workers to productive new work careers.
If the injured worker and his/her doctor believe that the allowed injuries will permanently prevent the worker from returning to the former position of employment and the employer indicates that no jobs will be available when the injured worker is released to return to work with restrictions, it might be a good idea to try to have the BWC rehab case manager incorporate a joint job training program with BVR into the rehab contract plan as early as possible which would first include aptitude testing to determine what type of job training and/or education would be best suited for the motivated worker.Even though approval is rare, it may be worth the effort for a much better re-entry into the work force.For additional job training information visit the Rehabilitation Service Commission’s website.