Job help from the California Dept. of Rehabilitation: Introduction

This post is about an agency in the State of California that assists people with disabilities in searching and preparing for employment: the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR).

Now, based on that introductory sentence, I can see why you might decide not to read any further: (1) If you’re not in California, why bother? and (2) “Rehabilitation” sounds like it’s for people with addiction problems, or people regaining  skills and strength following a physical or mental setback, and those things don’t apply to you.

Here’s why you might want to keep reading anyway:

(1) If you live elsewhere in the USA,  the other 49 states have comparable agencies, or portions of larger agencies, that do the same thing. And besides, we all know that anything that happens in California – which is, after all, the center of the universe – is endlessly fascinating to the rest of the world. [Just kidding!]

(2) What we’re talking about here is really vocational rehabilitation (VR), a term with a different shade of meaning from how “rehabilitation” is commonly used. I found a few definitions of VR online; here’s a good one from the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders (note the additional information that follows the Definition in this link):

Vocational rehabilitation (VR) is a set of services offered to individuals with mental or physical disabilities. These services are designed to enable participants to attain skills, resources, attitudes, and expectations needed to compete in the interview process, get a job, and keep a job. Services offered may also help an individual retrain for employment after an injury or mental disorder has disrupted previous employment.

And what are the services? Among others, they can include:

  • Vocational counseling and guidance
  • Assessment and evaluation
  • Vocational/postsecondary training
  • Assistive technology evaluation and provision of devices needed for training and employment
  • Employment-related needs, such as tools, occupational licenses, equipment, etc.
  • On-the-job training funds
  • Job placement service
  • Supported employment
  • Transportation assistance (such as bus passes)

Sound good? After all, it’s tough enough for the average young person to enter the job market; those with mental health challenges will likely face extra obstacles in every step of the process, and could use expert assistance in facing those obstacles.

Before we get all excited about the agency being the answer to all our problems, it’s important to note that some people who apply will be found ineligible for DOR services. Based on the information it obtains from the applicant, doctors, schools, etc. at the outset, DOR may decide the individual does not qualify. The two main reasons for this are: not being disabled enough, or being too severely disabled to benefit from the services available. The rationale behind the eligibility criteria is to spend taxpayer dollars efficiently, for assisting the people who truly need the help and who are likely to gain employment because of it.

Our atypical young people can enter the DOR system by one of two routes.

(1) If your high school student is in the special education program, or has a 504 plan, s/he can be connected with DOR through the school district’s transition program (which was discussed here). As long as the student has a desire to work and can benefit from the services available, he or she will be assigned to a DOR counselor.

(2) If the young person is already out of school but has a documented disability, s/he can go through the DOR intake process like any member of the adult community. This starts with filling out a simple form (DR 222), either in person at a DOR office, online at the DOR website, or on a printed form that can be mailed in.

I see on the DOR website that sometimes, due to limited funds and high demand, potential clients might have a waiting period. An applicant’s “priority category” will be determined in discussions with the VR counselor after the applicant is found eligible for DOR services.  The categories are “most significantly disabled”, “significantly disabled”, or “disabled”. In times of tight budgets, those in the first category will be helped first, by order of application date; then those in the second category; then those with the least severe disabilities. I don’t know how often this is a factor, but be aware that after applying you may experience a delay in obtaining services.

Our son Nathan had a delay, but it stemmed from a different source. Here’s what happened: during his senior year in high school, the school district’s transition specialist gave us the paperwork to start Nathan’s involvement with DOR. The forms largely dealt with release of information from medical and non-medical sources, to allow DOR to make the assessment on eligibility. The transition specialist also arranged for a DOR counselor to attend Nathan’s last IEP meeting before graduation. This is where the counselor met Nathan and learned about his challenges at school.

About a month after graduation, we received a letter from the counselor stating that Nathan’s case was still being evaluated, and that they would need more information from his therapist before deciding on Nathan’s ability to benefit from services.

Nathan’s psychiatrist at the time was Dr W, who has been mentioned in other blog posts. Dr W was very kind and caring, but getting him to fill out extra paperwork was a trial. At each monthly appointment, he would tell me that he’d forgotten, or he would be sure to complete it that night, or he thought he had sent it and it’s odd the counselor didn’t receive it, etc. After eight months of this, we used one of Nathan’s sessions for the doctor to complete the 11-question “Psychiatric Summary” and to draft a letter with more detail about Nathan’s diagnosis and prognosis for employment. (I made sure he handed the documents to me, rather than trust that he would put them in the mail!)

After all that, Dr W’s conclusion was that Nathan had the potential to work, with the best results likely if the job involved something he was interested in, had minimal public interaction, and if Nathan could see the outcome of the work he performed.

Once DOR finally had this information in hand, it took a few more months before they found Nathan to be eligible for services, and the wheels began turning for real. In all. a year had gone by since Nathan’s graduation. During this year we were also going through the SSI application and appeal process. Note that anyone who is already receiving benefits (SSI or SSDI) from the Social Security Administration is presumed eligible for DOR services.

Once eligibility is established and DOR is ready to help the applicant, an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) is developed. (Isn’t it nice that the acronym is a little bit different from the IEP found in special education?) The steps in the plan can be adjusted along the way as needed.

It will take another blog post or two to discuss what might be in an IPE, what Nathan’s experience was, when the DOR might close a client’s case file, and what to do if there are problems with the services a client is getting (or not). Meanwhile, please leave a comment if you have had some experience with vocational rehabilitation that you’d like to share – thanks!




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About janet565

I've lived in the Inland Empire of Southern California since 1982. My profession involves maps and geography. I hope you find the blog useful, and wish you well....

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