Under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), permanently disabled employees may receive vocational rehabilitation to help them return to the workforce in a job with pay at or near their wages at the time of injury. The Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) determines if the employee is permanently disabled and if rehabilitation is appropriate under the circumstances. The services will not be offered until the employee reaches his or her maximum medical improvement, which could take months after the loss of employment. In some cases, rehabilitation services may be offered earlier if the employee’s physician has released him or her to work and the medical evidence indicates that there is a permanent disability.
The vocational services may include assessments and skills testing, job counseling and development, resume writing, train when required, and job placement assistance. In some cases, rehabilitation includes communicating with the employer at the time of the injury to determine if alternative jobs are available to the disabled employee. These services are offered free of charge and participation is voluntary. However, employers or insurance companies may ask the employee to be evaluated by a vocational rehabilitation counselor. They will determine if there are available jobs the disabled employee can perform. Compensation may be reduced based on the evaluation.
Workers are eligible to receive vocational services if they are injured and receiving disability compensation payments due to a work-related disability if they are unable to return to their original job due to an outstanding permanent disability, and if there are appropriate work opportunities within their commuting area. Vocational services may be available for disabled workers not receiving compensation payments due to a settlement if the worker can self-support during the rehabilitation process.
Typically, the process for receiving services starts with the creation of a rehabilitation plan. The initial plan is to get an employee back to work with the previous employer as quickly as possible. If going back to the previous employer is not possible, then the plan is modified to help the employee find placement with another employer. Training classes may be necessary if the worker needs to find new employment. Participants approved rehabilitation activities may be paid for related expenses not exceed $25 per week. However, the OWCP will not pay for moving expenses to a better job market.
While receiving rehabilitation services, a disabled employee is expected to participate fully in necessary testing and evaluations, to work on a realistic plan with the vocational counselor and the employee’s doctor, and be flexible about jobs that can be obtained. There are several people involved in the rehabilitation services. Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors will assist with the training and job placement. Vocational Rehabilitation Specialists monitor the disabled employee and counselor and will approve expenses related to the rehabilitation plan. Longshore Claims Examiners make certain the employee receives proper medical treatment and compensation payments and will help resolve conflicts to increase odds of successfully transitioning to a new job.
Employees should request services by getting in touch with the Longshore Rehabilitation Specialist in their Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation District office.