The State Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program (VR program) is authorized by Title I of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It is mandated and regulated by the federal government but administered through state government. The VR program provides financial support to each state so that services may be provided to individuals with disabilities. The Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) administers the VR program. The goal of the VR program, as defined by the RSA, is “to help eligible individuals become as economically independent as possible and to lessen or eliminate their need for government support programs and services through meaningful and sustained work.”
Following are some general questions regarding the VR program, its services and its eligibility determination process. The information on these pages comes from a variety of sources including The Rehabilitation Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as well as the online sites of several state VR programs. The information is not represented as original/authored material.
Following the list of questions are links you may find useful to find additional information regarding vocational rehabilitation and/or the Rehabilitation Act, including a list of VR agencies, by state. For specific issues, visit your state’s VR website for local information.
Who is eligible?
Eligibility for VR services is dependent upon a disability that impedes employment. The disability need not be severe. It can be of either mental or physical nature or a learning disability. Services received from VR must be employment-goal oriented.
What is a “disability?”
Per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) a disabled person is one who has: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities; a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such impairment.Further, a physical impairment is defined by the ADA as: “Any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine.”
How is eligibility determined?
Four elements are considered in combination with one another to determine eligibility:
- Does the individual have a physical/mental impairment that makes it difficult to get or maintain a job, and
- Is the individual unemployed and does s/he want to go to work with help, or,
- Is the individual employed and can s/he remain employed but only by changing jobs or protecting a present job, and
- Does the individual need help from VRAnyone with a disability and who believes the impairments caused by the disability make it difficult to find or maintain a job and who needs assistance to work can apply for a VR eligibility determination.
How long does it take to find out if I’m eligible?
By law, eligibility must be determined within 60 days of application. There are two exceptions: if the individual requires an extended evaluation or, if unforeseen circumstances keep the agency from completing its determination evaluation within 60 days and you agree that an extension is warranted.
What can I expect during the VR eligibility interview?
During the application interview you will meet with a VR counselor. Information you need to provide includes: name, social security number, address, nature of disability, current or recent employment history, and current sources of income. You will also be required to present/obtain medical records, Social Security Administration records and education records. If deemed necessary, additional assessments, completed by or obtained by the VR agency, may be required in order to assess eligibility. During the eligibility interview, you will be asked to:
- Discuss your plans for work
- Discuss your education, training and experience that you can still use to get or maintain a job
- Discuss the things that you believe get in the way of work and what is needed to “get around them
- Set specific goals, an action plan, and steps by which to achieve those goals
- Make a commitment to your plan of action for going to work
What is the Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE)?
After eligibility is determined, the next step is to develop an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). The client develops the plan with the assistance of the VR counselor. During this planning phase, a comprehensive evaluation occurs so as to evaluate the client’s resources, strengths, abilities, etc. This assessment can cover educational, psychological, psychiatric, personal, social and medical factors that might bear impact on the client’s employment and rehabilitation needs. Some of the objectives to be identified in the IPE include:
- Specific employment goal, established by the client, in keeping with his/her strengths, abilities and interests,
- The VR services to be provided to achieve the specific employment goal,
- A timeline for beginning services and achieving employment goal,
- The need for post employment services
- Labor market research
What is “informed choice?”
Informed choice means you must be an active participant in your rehabilitation. VR agencies will assist you exercise informed choice throughout the VR process (i.e., identifying an employment goal, VR services to be provided to achieve goal, agency that will provide the services, etc.). VR must approve your IPE but you decide the level of involvement, if any, of the VR counselor in developing it.
How can VR help during the job search process?
Typical job searching resources available to you through your VR office include:
- Resume preparation
- Job seeking skills training
- Interview skills training
- Job leads
- Job placement assistance
I’m employed; can I still qualify for VR services?
Yes, you may be employed and still qualify for services. Examples include:
- You are in danger of losing your job for a disability-related reason and VR can help
- You are currently in a job below your abilities—you are capable of more but your disability has impeded you—and VR can help
- Your current job is inappropriate for your disability
- Your disability is worsening and you must prepare for a change in employment
I’ve qualified for services but am moving out of state. Will my eligibility transfer?
No. Interstate agreements do not exist. You will have to reapply for services in your new state.
What VR services are available to me?
The services available are broad; you may not need all the services that are available. The services chosen, and identified in your IPE, are those needed to overcome barriers to employment. They may include such services as:
- Job counseling/job placement
- Evaluation services
- Medical/psychological services
- Vocational training (including higher education) and the purchase of books, tools, etc.
- Social adjustment services
- Employment-based training
- Rehabilitation technology goods or services
- Employment-related goods
- Rehabilitation technology services and devices (to include job site modification, home repair or adaptation, vehicle modifications, specialized driving instruction in the case of adaptive driving aids/devices, to help you prepare for a driver’s license)
- Services to assist students with disabilities to go from school to work
Do I have to pay for services?
Yes. Income is a factor for some services (i.e., if a medical exam is required of you and your medical insurance covers this expense, you will be expected to use your provider for the exam). Exceptions are for those individuals currently receiving SSI or SSDI benefits.
VR Services and High School Students
As required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), by age 14, school districts are to include in a student’s IEP, a transition plan to help the student move into adult life. By age 16, or younger if appropriate, actual transition services are to begin. Transition services as defined by IDEA are: a coordinated set of activities for a student, designed within an outcome-oriented process that promotes movement from school to post-school activities. The areas to be considered include preparation for postsecondary education, vocational training, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, and community participation.
Services are based on a student’s needs but, they may include: instruction, related services, community experiences, development of post-school/adult living objectives, and if appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills. Through the IEP and transition plan, schools are to identify adult service providers and to foster relationships with those agencies.
An IEP meeting should include representatives from those agencies that will be providing transition services to the student (i.e, VR). The transition team may include, but is not limited to: student, parents, teachers (regular and special education), counselors, VR services, developmental services, Center for Independent Living programs, Social Security Administration, and medical personnel.
A student’s transition from the special education system to the VR system is facilitated by VR. For students eligible for VR services, an IPE is developed before the student leaves the school setting. The intent here is to ensure that there is no gap in services between the education system and the vocational rehabilitation system.
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US Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
US Department of Education listing of VR programs by state
PACER (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights). This site expands opportunities and enhances the quality of life of children and young adults with disabilities and their families based on the concept of parents helping parents