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Vocational rehabilitation does not occur in most work comp cases. It happens when injured workers have permanent restrictions that can not be accommodated by their employer. A common scenario is someone in a heavy duty job like construction work or a union electrician who sustains a serious back injury. Often after a surgery such as a fusion their orthopedic doctor will place them through physical therapy and other treatment, only to determine that they’ll never get back to their pre-injury level.
When a doctor tells you “this is as good as you are going to get” you are at what’s called maximum medical improvement or MMI. If you aren’t fully recovered and likely never will be, you might get a work restrictions such as no lifting more than 20 pounds, mandatory sitting for ten minutes every hour or no driving for more than 30 minutes without rest. All of these types of restrictions can make your old job impossible to do.
For Illinois workers you aren’t left out in the cold. You can get vocational rehabilitation which is a process by which a vocational counselor will help you look for work within your restrictions as well as assess what type of work you can reasonably do and how much you will make.
This work is considered a medical benefit and should be paid for by the insurance company. And just as you get to choose your own doctor, you can and should choose your own vocational rehab counselor. The ones that the insurance companies choose are often looking out for them, not you.
Part of what you will receive can include:
- Meetings with the counselor.
- Resume writing help.
- A labor market survey to see what types of jobs exist within your restrictions.
- Retraining for you to start a new career.
- Potentially college or other classes if they can increase your earning potential and doing so makes sense.
- Help on how to interview with employers as well as contact them.
While you are in this process you should continue to receive work comp benefits called maintenance. It’s essentially the same thing as TTD payments, e.g. 2/3 of your average weekly wage, tax free. These benefits do not expire.
At some point the voc counselor will write a report which will state what you can reasonably earn or report what you are able to earn based on your job success. If it turns out you can only make much less in a new job, you don’t have to take it, but that will be used to show that you are entitled to a wage differential payment which is 2/3 of what you could make if you were able to work your old job vs what you can make now.
Bottom line is that this a great benefit that hopefully you don’t ever need. But it’s good to know that Illinois workers aren’t left to fend for themselves if their injuries are this serious. It sadly does happen in other states.