Vocational Rehabilitation is a Farce and a Trap in Louisiana Workers Compensation

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Vocational Rehabilitation is a Sham and a Farce in Louisiana Workers Compensation

An employee injured on the job in Louisiana is entitled to vocational rehabilitation services, which are supposed to assist the injured worker in finding a new job or occupation if he or she cannot return to his or her previous occupation due to the work-related injury.

The idea that the insurance company will offer retraining services to help an injured employee find a new job seems appealing to an injured employee.  

Employees were almost always hard at work at the time of injury, and are almost always eager to return to work despite injuries.

So when an injured employee is told (usually by a vocational rehabilitation counselor) that Louisiana workers compensation has a system called vocational rehabilitation which is supposed to help injured workers find re-training or a new job, this injured employee is eager to work that system.

But the big lie is that vocational rehabilitation hardly ever provided actual re-training or an actual new job, but instead is simply a tool for the vocational rehabilitation counselor and the workers compensation insurance company to reduce and eliminate the worker's indemnity (or lost wages) benefits.

Essentially, if the employee's doctor releases the employee to work with restrictions (such as light duty), the insurer will appoint a vocational counselor (or "vocational rehabilitation specialist") to conduct a labor market survey, and in some cases a functional capacity evaluation, to identify jobs within the area that actually available and that are a match with the employee's skills and present physical ability (as per the doctor's written restrictions).

Then, once the injured worker's treating physician signs off on the jobs in the Labor Market Survey), the workers compensation insurance company can immediately reduce or terminate the employee's lost wage benefits.

Thus, vocational rehabilitation is a sham and a farce, and no friend to the injured worker. In fact, vocational rehabilitation can be the injured worker's biggest nightmare.

Vocational Rehabilitation is a Trap in Louisiana Workers Compensation

So basically, vocational rehabilitation is supposed to serve two functions in a workers compensation claim: (1) a program for job retraining or new job placement, and (2) a method for determining an injured worker's wage earning capacity for the sole purpose of reducing or terminating the worker's lost wage benefits.

The problem with the dual purpose approach is that  job retraining and new job placement hardly ever actually occurs, but rather serves as a trap for the injured employee, because it entices the worker to provide the very evidence required to determine an injured worker's wage earning capacity for the sole purpose of reducing or terminating the worker's lost wage benefits.

Vocational rehabilitation is a trap because the vocational rehabilitation counselor appears advantageous to the injured worker since this counselor is free to the worker, but in reality this vocational rehabilitation counselor is actually working actively against the interest of the worker, since the vocational rehabilitation counselor is hired, paid, and managed by the workers compensation insurance company.

This workers compensation insurance company has to meet it bottom line - which means reducing and eliminating benefits to the employee - because it owes no duty to the interest of the employee, but is solely obligated to maximize profit to its stock shareholders.

Therefore, vocational rehabilitation is a trap because the vocational rehabilitation counselor has no choice but to work against the injured employee, while pretending to look out for the injured worker.

Little or No Job Training or Job Retraining Ever Occurs in Louisiana Workers Compensation

If the injured employee is unable to be able to return to his or her position (either with or without modifications/accommodations), and is able to prevent the workers compensation insurance company from eliminating his or her lost wage benefits, then the employee's next option  is to seek job retraining.

But again, the purpose of vocational rehabilitation from the viewpoint of the insurance company is simply to minimize or terminate the employee's indemnity (or lost wages) benefits. 

Thus, the real purpose of vocational rehabilitation is not to find the injured employee a new job, or to provide job retraining. And for this reason, very little job retraining ever actually occurs in workers compensation claim.  

In fact, the specific Louisiana statute (law) lists in it first sentence that: "the goal of rehabilitation services is to return a disabled worker to work, with a minimum of retraining, as soon as possible after an injury occurs."

Short-Term and Long-Term Re-Training Programs

The purpose of the short-term and long-term re-training programs, as well as on-the-job training program, is for the injured employee to obtain skills that they do not have prior to the training program, that they can utilize to get a job.

Typically, the on-the-job training program results in placement with the employer providing the training; while short-term and long-term re-training programs are more educational, developing skills and preparing an injured worker to return to work in the labor market, through the job placement process. 

A short-term re-training program, which is defined by Louisiana law as less than 26 weeks, could be found in vocational and technical schools, as well as specialty schools for certain industries. This undertaking typically removes the worker from the workforce while in training.

Typically, there is a cost associated with a short-term re-training program, which would include tuition, books and supplies, as well as costs for transportation, parking, and other ancillary expenses incurred when in training. There is a shortage of short-term re-training programs in Louisiana that are offered by schools, including vocational and technical schools.

A long-term re-training program, which is defined by Louisiana law as more than 26 weeks, but not more than one year, is more readily available in the State of Louisiana. A long-term re-training program would also include the expenses mentioned above, and removes the injured worker from the workforce while undergoing such training.

But Job Retraining Rarely Ever Even Occurs

So job retraining is only even a possibility when the employee is injured so badly that it impossible to return to his or her prior job, and there are no other jobs available in the area that match the employee's education and skill level.

But even then, workers compensation insurance companies very rarely provide for retraining programs - either short-term or long-term - due to the cost of such programs and the time needed for such programs.

The costs of a retraining program would include the reasonable costs of board, lodging, and necessary travel, if there are no retraining programs close to the injured employee.

Also, in the very rare cases where job retraining actually occurs, a request for vocational retraining must be filed within two years from the end date of temporary total disability as determined by the treating physician.

And the few injured workers who actually are determined to be eligible for vocational rehab job retraining can typically receive lost wage benefits for up to 26 weeks, with an additional 26-week extension possible in special situations. 

The Employee Should Beware When Contacted by a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor in Louisiana Workers Compensation

Louisiana workers compensation law specifically holds that: "an employer can discharge its burden by establishing the existence of a job within claimant's physical capabilities and within claimant's or the employer's community or reasonable geographic region, the amount of wages that an employee with claimant's experience and training can expect to earn in that job, and an actual position available for that particular job at the time that the claimant received notification of the job's existence. All of this can be proven without the cooperation or participation of the employee."

So, actual job placement is not required, and the workers compensation insurance company can eliminate an employee's lost wage benefits simply by:

    1. Showing the existence of a job within the employee's physical capabilities and geographic region;
    2. Showing the amount of wages that an employee with that employee's experience and training can expect to earn in that job; and
    3. Showing an actual position available for that particular job at the time that the employee received notification of the job's existence.

And again, all of this can be proven without the cooperation or participation of the employee.

For these reasons, an injured employee should be extremely concerned if he or she is contacted by a vocational rehabilitation counselor.

The bottom line is that if an injured employee is contacted by a vocational rehabilitation counselor, this almost always means that the workers compensation insurance company is attempting and preparing to reduce or eliminate the employee's lost wage benefits.  

The employee should beware, because the vocational rehabilitation counselor's primary goal - what the counselor is paid to do - is to provide evidence and testimony as an expert witness for the insurance company in order to prove that the injured employee can return to work, and thus should no longer receive lost wage benefits.

The injured employee must understand that the workers compensation insurance company chooses, hires, pays, manages, and directs the vocational rehabilitation counselor to do exactly what the insurance company wants - which is to eliminate the employee's lost wage benefits.

If the vocational rehabilitation counselor does not work to eliminate the employee's lost wage benefits, he or she will not only be fired, but he or she will never be hired by any of the workers compensation insurance companies ever again.

Negative Effects on the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Also, a vocational rehabilitation counselor can work against the employee through actions with the employee's treating physician, by attempting to:

    1. Poison the relationship between the employee and his or her physician;
    2. Undermine the physician by attempting to dispute diagnoses or treatment plans;
    3. Try to convince the doctor to that the employee is uninjured;
    4. Try to convince the doctor to that the employee can work specific types of jobs; and
    5. Try to convince the doctor to prematurely release the employee back to work.

For these reasons, the injured employee should maintain a continuous, open and honest dialogue with his or her doctor, including discussions about the employee's workers compensation claim.

Negative Effects on the Employee's Potential Settlement

Finally, the injured employee must understand that the work performed by the vocational rehabilitation counselor can have a tremendous effect of the size of the settlement - if any - that the employee may receive.

If the efforts of the vocational rehabilitation counselor are defeated or stymied, the injured employee can do very well in promptly achieving his or her top-dollar settlement amount.

However, if the vocational rehabilitation counselor is successful in reducing or eliminating the employee's benefits, the employee may be lefts with a very small settlement or no settlement at all.

How to Avoid the Trap of Vocational Rehabilitation in Louisiana Workers Compensation

Avoiding the vocational rehabilitation trap can be difficult, but it is certainly possible.

Really, the only way for an injured employee to fight against the insurance company's efforts to reduce or terminate the employee's lost wage benefits is to retain an experienced Louisiana workers compensation attorney to push back against the vocational rehabilitation trap.

From the injured employee's perspective, the vocational rehabilitation process begins with a meeting with the vocational rehabilitation counselor, who will make an inventory of the employee's past employment history and work skills.

Form there, the injured employee will likely perform a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) so that the workers compensation insurance company can attempt to measure the employee's physical limitations that you may have due to your injury or illness.

Based on the results of the vocational rehabilitation counselor's gathered employment history and work skills, as well as the employee's Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE), a Labor Market Survey will likely be prepared by the vocational rehabilitation counselor and presented to the employee and then presented to the employee's treating physician.

Once, the employee's treating physician confirms in writing (or "signs off" on the jobs), then the workers compensation insurance company can immediately reduce or terminate the employee's lost wage benefits.

So again, the real purpose of the vocational rehabilitation process, including the efforts of the vocational rehabilitation counselor, is to enable the workers compensation insurance company to terminate the employee's lost wage benefits.

How to Fight the Reduction or Elimination of Lost Wage Benefits

To avoid the vocational rehabilitation trap, an injured employee should hire an experienced Louisiana workers compensation attorney to handle his or her entire workers compensation claim.

A skilled Louisiana workers compensation attorney can help in defeating the insurance company's efforts to reduce or terminate the employee's lost wage benefits, and can prevent the employee from accepting a pre-mature or low-ball settlement as a result of the vocational rehabilitation trap.

The earlier a workers compensation attorney can begin handling an injured employee's claim, the better.

However, an experienced workers compensation attorney's skills can be most effective during the vocational rehabilitation process, and especially effective in refuting the insurance company's Labor Market Survey,

At any rate, an experienced Louisiana workers compensation attorney can fight back against the insurance company, while assisting the injured employee, by:

    1. Ensuring that the employee's lost wage benefits are being paid in full and on time;
    2. Preparing the employee for the employee's meetings with the vocational rehabilitation counselor;
    3. Accompanying the employee to his or her first meeting with the vocational rehabilitation counselor;
    4. Being present for any interview conducted with the employee by the vocational rehabilitation counselor or insurance company representative;
    5. Supervising the vocational rehabilitation process to make sure the vocational rehabilitation counselor and insurance company are complying with the law;
    6. Supervising the vocational rehabilitation process to make sure the vocational rehabilitation counselor and insurance company are not coercing the employee into giving up benefits;
    7. Instructing the employee on how to properly handle a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE);
    8. Challenging the validity of a Labor Market Survey through research and evidence;
    9. Investigating all positions identified by the vocational rehabilitation counselor in the Labor Market Survey;
    10. Refuting the availability and wage rates of jobs listed on a Labor Market Survey;
    11. Challenging whether jobs listed in a Labor Market Survey actually fall within the treating physician's work restrictions;
    12. Challenging whether jobs listed in a Labor Market Survey contain a true and proper description for the treating physician to review;
    13. Investigating whether the treating physician actually signed off on each job listed in a Labor Market Survey, without additional limitations;
    14. Investigating whether each job listed in a Labor Market Survey actually falls inside of the employee's education, training and skills;
    15. Determining whether each job listed in a Labor Market Survey actually existed on the date on which the employee was made aware of it; and
    16. Determining whether each job listed in a Labor Market Survey actually is located where it is described, and within 30 miles of the employee.

The bottom line is that vocational rehabilitation is a trap, because its real purpose is not to find the injured employee a new job, or to provide retraining, but instead merely to give the insurance company the ability to terminate the employee's indemnity (or lost wages) benefits. 

So an injured employee should be to fight against the insurance company's efforts to reduce or terminate the employee's lost wage benefits, and the best way to do that is with the help of a skilled experienced Louisiana workers compensation attorney.

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