There have been some changes to the choices you have when you have been found eligible for Vocational Retraining. You will still work with your vocational counselor to develop a retraining plan, which will include a specific job goal approved by your medical provider as appropriate for your injury. The plan will be submitted to L&I for review. Once the plan is approved you have a choice to make.
You can participate in the retraining as proposed. Or you can choice Option 2. Taking Option 2 means you will receive some additional payments (similar to your time loss), you will not participate in the retraining program, and your claim will be closed with whatever permanent impairment has been rated for your particular injury. Then, anytime in the next 5 years, you can use the training funds to pursue re-training on your own. You simple contact the department, enroll in an approved or accredited school or course, and the department will pay the costs.
Here’s where the changes are. Instead of 6 months of Option 2 additional payments, you will get 9 months. That’s an extra 3 months of biweekly payments to help provide a soft landing as your claim closes. You can also delay making the Option 2 choice. Instead of having to make the choice shortly after the retraining plan is approved, you have some time. You can actually start the retraining plan, and see how you do. Time-loss will continue while you are participating in retraining. Anytime within the first quarter of training, or within 3 months, you can decide to stop participating in the program and elect Option 2. At that point the 9 months of payments will be reduced by the amount of time loss paid starting with the first day of the retraining program, and you will be entitled to the remainder of the Option 2 payments
This change allows you to try out a retraining program, see how you do, decide whether the program is a good fit, and then make a more informed decision about whether to continue the retraining. For most injured workers, school days are a distant memory. The routine of going to class, studying, completing assignments, and taking tests can be an overwhelming idea. Now you can try it on for size without losing the benefit of the Option 2 payments.
Whether to take Option 2 or participate in retraining is an important decision. There are a lot of factors you should consider. (That’s another post!) This change allows you to take a bit more time and, hopefully, make the decision which is best for you. If you do not already have an attorney, this may be a good time to make an appointment and ask some questions.
Here’s the quirky thing about medical treatment and workers compensation claims – injured workers feel like they have to keep seeing a doctor, keep asking for more treatment, requesting another diagnostic study, or another course of physical therapy- even when their condition is not really changing. It is natural to think that as long as you have an open claim, you must be seeking out medical treatment. Doctors fall into this trap as well. The injured worker follows up every 4 to 6 weeks, the medical provider chats for a few minutes, does a brief exam, and says, ‘keep doing what you’re doing, and come back next month’.
But the truth is, medical conditions stabilize. Home exercise programs take over for therapy, new diagnostic studies don’t show anything new, and your exam is the same from visit to visit. When treatment ends, or should end, does that mean your workers’ compensation claim is over? In truth, the end of medical treatment most often signals a change in the focus of a claim, but not necessarily an abrupt end to benefits.
If your treatment is winding down, regardless of whether you feel like you are 100% back to where you were before your injury, it is time to start thinking about a return to work. That can be scary, and employers are not always as helpful as they could be, requiring a full release or not accommodating even simple changes in job duties. It’s scary because some injured workers are not going back to work at their jobs of injury, and that can mean starting all over. It feels overwhelming and uncertain. It’s hard to know where to start or where to turn for help.
There are complex questions involved when an injured worker reaches maximum medical improvement but has not already returned to work. Can the worker return to regular duties? What if specific job requirements were modified? Does the employer have some alternative position the worker could perform? Can the worker use transferable job skills in a new area of employment? Does the worker need help with job search, resume writing or interview techniques? Will retraining help?
Even if your claim has been smooth sailing while you were getting medical treatment, conflicts and disputes often arise when treatment stops and return to work becomes the focus of claims management. This may be the right time to get legal assistance, or at least ask questions of someone with some expertise in worker’s compensation claims. A good attorney can help you figure out what’s next, and head in that direction.
While it may feel safer to keep your head down, and ask your doctor about more therapy, you will be better off in the long run if you look up, ask questions, and take control of the decisions surrounding your return to work.
So, here is my question to those of you out there who read this blog.
What incentives could be created which would result in more workers returning to work after they are injured on the job?
I ask because I spent a number of hours this last Fall in meetings with Business and Labor representatives, and representatives from the Department of Labor & Industries and the Governor’s office. We were tasked with exploring ways to reduce long term disability in the workers compensation system. By the way, a nearly impossible task given the short time frame to work before the start of the Legislative session. But, we did have some interesting and productive conversations about what contributes to long-term disability. As you might imagine, the factors vary from claim to claim, and there is not one single contributing factor which we could eliminate, thereby reducing overall long term disability.
We did just start to explore the idea of incentives to improve return to work. We didn’t get anywhere. The Legislative session was looming; the room was getting tense; and battle lines were being drawn. But, we were close to the beginnings of a conversation about ideas. I know, that sounds three steps removed from anything productive. However, there were thoughtful people in the room. Without the pressures of a cantankerous legislative session breathing down everyone’s neck, I think we could actually have those productive discussions. I hope we do, time will tell, I suppose.
In the meantime, I’m interested in anything you might have to say on the subject. Any thoughts??