Vocational rehabilitation (VR) programs are state run, federally funded programs that offer a way for people with mental and physical disabilities to get the help they need to become more independent and to go back to work.
How Do I Qualify for Vocational Rehabilitation?
To qualify for federally funded vocational rehabilitation, you must:
- have a physical or mental condition that causes a “substantial impediment” to your ability to work, and
- be able to benefit from VR services so that you can get a job.
If you get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you will automatically be eligible for VR unless your disability is so severe that you won’t be benefit by being a part of a VR program.
To apply for VR services, contact the agency in your state that administers the program. Some states's department of vocational rehabilitation falls under the health and human services agency, while others' comes under the department of education.) You can find a complete state-by-state list of VR agencies and their contact information here. Also, your local Social Security field office can help you find the closest voc rehab office in your state.
How Can Vocational Rehabilitation Help Me?
Here are some of the services that vocational rehabilitation can offer you:
- a personal assessment of your disability(ies) to see if you are eligible and to determine how VR can help you
- job counseling, guidance, and referral services
- physical and mental rehabilitation
- vocational (job) and other training
- on-the-job training
- financial assistance while you are getting some voc rehab services
- transportation needed to get to some voc rehab services
- an interpreter (if you are deaf)
- reader services (if you are blind)
- help transitioning from school to work (for students)
- personal assistance services
- rehabilitation technology services and devices
- supported employment services, and
- help finding a job.
The law requires state agencies to offer at least those services described above, though your state may offer additional services.
What If I Want to Become Self-Employed?
VR programs and counselors can help you if you want to start your own small business. For example, they can help you conduct a market analysis and develop a business plan.
What If I Want to Go Back to School?
If you want to go back to school, you may be eligible for a scholarship from the college or university you attend. However, if you accept a VR scholarship, you are required to work for a public rehabilitation agency two years for every one year of full-time scholarship money you get. To get information or an application for a voc rehab scholarship, contact your school’s financial aid department.
Here is a list of programs that are eligible for VR scholarships:
- Rehabilitation Counseling (master's and doctoral programs)
- Rehabilitation Administration
- Rehabilitation Technology
- Vocational Evaluation and Work Adjustment
- Rehabilitation of Individuals Who Are Mentally Ill
- Rehabilitation Psychology
- Undergraduate Education in Rehabilitation Services
- Rehabilitation of Individuals Who Are Blind or Have Vision Impairments
- Rehabilitation of Individuals Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, and
- Rehabilitation Job Development and Job Placement.
How Does VR Affect My Eligibility for Social Security or SSI Disability Benefits?
If you are enrolled in a VR program, the SSA will not review your eligibility based on the medical requirements for disability, but any earnings you make may still affect your eligibility or benefit amount. However, the SSA has work incentive programs that can help minimize any potential impact your return to work has on your benefits, through what is called the Ticket to Work program.
Do I Have to Enroll in a Vocational RehabilitationProgram?
No. You are not required to enroll in a VR program, nor are you required to take part in any Ticket to Work program.