What is Vocational Rehab? Getting Back to Work After a Traumatic Injury

“When are you going back to work?” It can be one of the most challenging questions to get from caring friends and family after a traumatic injury. It’s a question the bridges the distance between your identity and capabilities before an injury and your identity and capabilities after an injury. While you may look the same, many individuals who have suffered a traumatic brain injury sense the hidden changes within themselves and are filled with questions like: Will I be able to do the same job or even the same vocation? Will my employer work with me? Will my co-workers understand? Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, Ginger Hurt MA, CRC, shares how vocational rehabilitation is helping individuals find life after trauma and reinvent vocation.   

The Need for Work

Returning to work following a serious injury or illness can be a complex and challenging process. Not only does work provide for our material needs through income, it also is often a source of our personal identity, worth and dignity.  Therefore, returning to employment is understandably one of the primary goals of rehabilitation. Fortunately, there are services available that can help make getting back to work a smoother journey.  

What is Vocational Rehab?

You may be unfamiliar with the vocational rehabilitation profession, but counselors working in this area are experts in assisting people return to their jobs. Vocational rehabilitation is a dynamic process that may involve many different activities aimed at understanding your particular barriers to work and helping you effectively develop solutions to these issues. The vocational rehabilitation counselor (VRC) can work closely with you and your medical team to get you back to work.

Vocational Activities May Include:

  • Negotiating a part-time, gradual return to work with your employer if going back on a full-time basis is not realistic at first.
  • Evaluating your job to determine the physical and cognitive requirements to help identify job accommodations for your disability-related issues.
  • Educating your employer about your condition and need for accommodation.
  • Providing job coaching services at your  work site to assist you in successful return-to-work.
  • Assessing your need for adaptive equipment that would help you do your job and training you in its use.
  • Analyzing your skill set to assist you in taking a new career direction if return to your previous work is not feasible.
  • Evaluating your skills and abilities through formal testing to help you decide on a new career path and to identify training options.
  • Providing job search assistance and job placement.
  • Providing evaluation services to help determine your eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance or long-term disability payments.
  • Resource referral and coordination with other providers.

Further Resources

Vocational rehabilitation services are available through a variety of resources such as:

The Washington State Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR): www.dshs.wa.gov/jjra/division-vocational-rehabilitation

Social Security Administration (SSA): www.socialsecurity.gov (Click on Disability Benefits and Work Incentives)

Your Employer: Ask about short-term and long-term disability benefits and whether a employee donated leave program is available.  Vocational services are often available through your LTD carrier once you’re found eligible.

If You’re Hurt on the Job: Your claims manager can assign a vocational counselor. You can contact Washington State Department of Labor & Industries or your company’s Self-insured Administrator.

Private Vocational Rehabilitation Companies: Check the Yellow Pages under Rehabilitation services or look on-line to identify providers in your area.

Washington State Employment Security Department/Workforce: Ask about meeting with a vocational/job placement counselor. www.esd.wa.gov 

With the exception of private vocational providers, vocational rehabilitation services are available to you at no cost. Typical fees for private counselors is $90-125 hourly.     

Returning to work is a crucial step in your recovery process. Consider vocational rehabilitation as an integral part of your return-to-work plan. If you are unable to return to work following your injury or illness, a vocational rehabilitation counselor can also be helpful in identifying volunteer opportunities that are consistent with your interests, skills and abilities.

This article is written by Ginger D. Hurt, MA, CRC, of Omni Vocational Services, Inc. with offices in Bellevue and Tacoma.  Ms. Hurt is a certified rehabilitation counselor who has practiced vocational counseling and assessment for nearly 30 years.  She specializes in working with individuals with neurological disorders, spinal cord injury, chronic pain, amputation and orthopedic injuries. She can be reached at (206) 595-3796. Additional information is available at her website:  www.omnivocational.com.


Published on February 26, 2015.