Vocational Rehabilitation Services
Contributed by Marci Wheeler, MSW
Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a state program, which assists people with disabilities to obtain services that help them prepare to obtain and maintain employment. The program is administered by the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS) under the authority of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA). Eligibility for VR services is based on state and federal requirements. There are guidelines to determine the services provided and the amount VRS can pay for services. VRS funds can only be used for services, equipment, and other assistance that are necessary for participation in the program and for obtaining successful employment.
Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS)
Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies are required to set aside a percentage of federal funds for the provision of Pre-ETS to students with disabilities who are eligible or potentially eligible for VR services. This is to help ensure students have access to career planning in order to facilitate a successful transition from high school to employment or post-secondary training.
For the Pre-ETS program, a student with a disability is defined as an individual with a disability in a secondary, postsecondary, or other recognized education program who is between the ages of 14 and 22 years old who is receiving, special education or related services under an IEP or 504 plan.
There are five core services offered, including job exploration counseling, work-based learning experiences, counseling on postsecondary opportunities, workplace readiness training, and instruction on self-advocacy.
Pre-ETS Transition Services are offered in all Indiana counties but not in all schools within a county. As of February 2019, there are 10 Pre-ETS contractors who are collaborating with other agencies to provide pre-employment transition services in all counties.
To check if Pre-ETS is available in your school, to request Pre-ETS be made available in your school, or to refer a student for services, contact the designated person, for your county, within the 10 agencies, currently contracted. These agencies are listed here: https://www.in.gov/fssa/files/CountiesbyPreETSProviders.pdf. For further information, visit: https://www.in.gov/fssa/files/PreETSBasics.pdf or contact either Will Colteryahn, VR Coordinator of Youth Services at (317) 232-1966; firstname.lastname@example.org or Jonathan Kraeszig, VR Director of Youth Services at (317) 232-1964; email@example.com.
Accessing VR Services
In Indiana, legislation has focused on regulations and policies that help facilitate collaboration between schools and vocational rehabilitation services for students who might be eligible for all VR Services, including Pre-ETS. At a minimum, vocational rehabilitation counselors can be invited to the case conferences of students who are fourteen years old and up.
Note: A student does not have to be receiving special education services to qualify for the VR program. Anyone age 16 or older can contact the local VRS office himself or herself. If still in school, they should ask their school counselor to refer them to speak with a VR counselor and/or submit an application for services.
Eligibility for VRS
A student is eligible for Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) if:
- He or she has a disability and attends a secondary, postsecondary, or other recognized education program; and, is between the ages of 14 and 22 years old; and is receiving, special education or related services under an IEP or 504 plan. The student must be eligible or potentially eligible for VR services, though they do not have to formally apply for VR services.
An individual is eligible for VR services if:
- He or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially interferes with the ability to prepare for, enter, engage, or retain employment; and,
- Vocational Rehabilitation services are considered of benefit for the individual to become employable.
A determination of eligibility should be made within 60 days from the date of application unless notification is given that unforeseen circumstances beyond VRS’ control have prevented a decision from being made.
Order of Selection (OOS)
Beginning August 1, 2017, a process for prioritizing VR eligible individuals, called Order of Selection, began in Indiana. Indiana VRS was experiencing a deficit of resources, particularly personnel resources and, according to federal guidelines and approval, entered into an order of selection process.
Under order of selection, once an individual is found eligible for VR services, a severity level is assigned. To assess an individual’s severity level, the individual’s functional capacities are determined in seven categories: 1) communication, 2) mobility, 3) self-care, 4) interpersonal skills, 5) self-direction, 6) work tolerance, and 7) work skills. In addition, an assessment is done to determine if the individual needs multiple services over an extended period.
There are three severity levels, in Indiana. Level one are individuals with the most significant disabilities. They are given a priority category one and served first. Currently individuals given a level two or level three of severity are placed on a deferred services list.
When resources become available, individuals in severity level two (priority category 2) will be prioritized and served according to application dates. Individuals in severity level three (priority category 3) will be served, according to earliest application date, when resources become available and after all level two/priority category 2 individuals have been served.
VRS eligible individuals, who are deferred for services, will be provided information about other resources and agencies that might be able to assist them in working on employment goals.
Note: VRS has taken steps to initiate Pre-ETS during the application intake so a student who qualifies is able to receive pre-employment transition services, regardless of order of selection category assigned.
Ineligibility and Appeals
If an individual is found not eligible for VR services, they will be notified in writing. If an individual is ineligible for the VRS program, the VRS counselor may be able to make a referral to other programs and agencies. A person who is found not eligible for the VRS program has the right to apply later if they feel their circumstances have changed. A person who is found not eligible may also appeal this decision.
The VRS counselor must explain the appeal process. This information is also included in the denial letter. A request for appeal can be made verbally or in writing and must be made within 20 calendar days from the date of the decision (the original ineligibility decision). After an appeal is requested, a VRS area supervisor will provide a Request for Hearing form that must be completed. An administrative Hearing must be held after the Request for Hearing form is received by VRS. At the Administrative Hearing, a person can be represented by legal counsel or any other person of their choosing.
Note: Once a student has been determined ineligible for VR services, they would no longer be able to receive pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS) because they are no longer “potentially eligible.”
Indiana Disability Rights has a Client Assistance Program (CAP) which can assist individuals with concerns about the VRS program while seeking services and/or appealing a decision from VRS. CAP services are free.
More information on Indiana Disability Rights can be found on their website https://www.in.gov/idr/. Information to contact IDR directly is as follows:
Indiana Disability Rights
4701 North Keystone, Suite 222
Indianapolis, IN 46205
1-317-722-5555 or 1-800-622-4845
Services Available from VRS
Once an individual is found eligible for the VRS program, the individual and the VR counselor develop an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). The IPE will contain the employment outcome goals based on the individual’s unique abilities, interests, strengths, priorities, and concerns. The IPE will also list the services to be provided and who will provide those services along with times frames and methods to use to evaluate progress.
The individual and the VR counselor sign the IPE indicating there is agreement. The IPE is reviewed at least once a year, or more if needed. When reviewing the IPE, changes may be made if necessary. Any changes must be put in writing.
Services provided if determined appropriate (on an individual basis) can include, but are not limited to:
- Diagnostic testing and assessment to determine eligibility for VR services and to determine needs;
- Vocational counseling and guidance;
- Job related services including job search and placement assistance;
- Educational guidance and support;
- Treatment for physical, mental, and emotional impairments, which are considered a substantial impediment to employment;
- Employment related tools and gear;
- Rehabilitation technology including telecommunications, sensory, and other assistive devices and aids;
- Placement assistance and follow-up;
- services; and
- Personal attendant service (reader, interpreter, etc.).
To access information on Vocational Rehabilitation Services and to find the nearest office, go to their website at https://www.in.gov/fssa/ddrs/2636.htm or call 800-545-7763.
Wheeler, M. (2019). Vocational rehabilitation services for employment. Retrieved from https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/vocational-rehabilitation-services-for-employment.