People who need help with employment following a serious injury, health condition, disability, or adverse event, may be offered assistance to return to meaningful employment. This assistance is often called ‘vocational rehabilitation’, or sometimes ‘occupational rehabilitation’. The term rehabilitation can also refer to other forms of medical rehabilitation (physiotherapy, exercise physiology, speech therapy, occupational therapy, psychological therapy) that may be part of a larger medical treatment plan. These other forms of medical rehabilitation aim to help people recover optimal functioning following an injury or health condition. Medical rehabilitation can and should be provided prior to, or alongside, vocational rehabilitation.
- What is vocational rehabilitation?
This is an important question that service users and their families often ask about rehabilitation. Understanding what vocational rehabilitation is and the forms of assistance that can be provided, is essential for anyone seeking help to have confidence that participating will be successful and worth the effort. The nature of the assistance available will depend on the insurer and the legal requirements governing how that assistance can be provided.
- Am I eligible for insurance based vocational rehabilitation?
If you have experienced an illness or injury in connection with employment you may be eligible for workplace insurance based vocational rehabilitation. This is usually offered as an entitlement based on your employment contract or through your superannuation fund. Insurance based vocational rehabilitation can be a little more complicated than government provided disability employment assistance, because it is governed by different legislation and can involve several additional stakeholders.
- How can I find out if I am eligible for vocational rehabilitation?
You may have to ask this question of several people and organisations. Your treating doctor, employer, insurer, lawyer, or superannuation fund, may be able to help you find this out.
If a formal claim is needed you can get help to lodge a claim and to discover how soon you can access vocational rehabilitation. Once you lodge a claim for assistance, make sure you follow it up regularly to ensure a decision on your case is made in a timely manner. If vocational rehabilitation is denied or delayed for reasons that are unclear to you, it may be worthwhile seeking more legal advice on your situation.
Even though you may be able to navigate your own return to employment without help, gaining access to vocational rehabilitation can ensure a smoother and more successful return to employment.
- Who else could be involved in my vocational rehabilitation?
There can be several parties involved and this may be a legal requirement. These other persons and organisations are often called stakeholders. Some of the more common ones are:
- The worker, service user, or person seeking vocational rehabilitation.
- The worker’s supervisor or manager.
- Rehabilitation consultant.
- An Insurer such as EML, icare, WorkCover or another insurance company.
- Your health care providers such as your treating doctor and medical specialists.
- Other medical officers, medical specialists, and other health care providers who may be contracted to the insurance company or to the rehabilitation provider.
- Your advocate, lawyer, or supporting family member.
Given the number of different people that can be involved, it is important to understand the role of each and whether they are acting directly in your interests or primarily act for another stakeholder such as an employer or insurer. Usually the interests of all parties coincide around the common goal of a successful return to suitable employment. However, there can be divergent views at times, so it is important to understand the different roles of stakeholders and whose interests they primarily represent. You may need help from the parties acting more directly in your interests to understand and resolve any divergent views about your vocational rehabilitation.
Dr Waghorn has 24 years’ experience as a Registered Psychologist and 23 years in research. He is one of the leading experts on vocational rehabilitation including Individual Placement and Support (evidence-based supported employment) within Australia and internationally. To date Dr Waghorn has contributed to over 120 peer reviewed research publications. Most of his research has focussed on improving the recovery and social inclusion of individuals living with disabilities and health conditions.
In 2014 Dr Waghorn entered into the Disability Employment Australia Hall of Fame for his significant contribution to improving the lives and experiences of people with mental illness seeking employment. Dr Waghorn’s expertise includes an ability to simplify complex information and research to ensure that it can be practically applied in the real world. Geoff is a passionate advocate of open employment for people living with disabilities and severe mental illnesses who want to work. He has challenged low expectations in society with questions such as “show me the evidence that this person cannot work given the right support and a suitable job match.