The North Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Program
The Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program provides goods and services to help people with disabilities get jobs and support themselves. Depending on your interests, VR can help you prepare for work, get a job, keep your job, get your job back, earn higher pay or get promotions in your current job. Any job you get with the help of VR services must pay you at least a minimum wage and be in a workplace that includes coworkers without disabilities. In North Carolina, the VR program is run by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS) and the Division of Services for the Blind (DSB). People who have significant visual impairments can choose to receive VR services through either DVRS or DSB, while all other people with disabilities receive VR services through DVRS.
North Carolina has no waitlist for the VR program. This means that anyone who has a disability that impacts their ability to work can go through the program at this time.
Even though there is no waitlist, it can still take several months after you contact your local VR office before you start receiving goods and services. It takes a while for VR to determine if you are eligible for the program and to create an “individualized plan for employment” (IPE) for you. Once your work plan is complete, you will begin receiving the goods and services laid out in your plan.
Once you start the VR process, stay in regular contact with your VR counselor. It will keep you and your goals fresh in his or her mind. You also want to stay in touch with your counselor to make sure he or she is meeting their time limits to provide you with services. For example, your counselor has:
- 21 days to start the application process after you are referred to the local VR office;
- 60 days to determine if you are eligible for the VR program after the application is started; and
- 90 days to complete your plan after you are found eligible for VR services.
If your counselor is not meeting these time limits, do not agree to extend them unless the counselor properly documents the reason for the delay.
Remember to treat your VR counselor with as much respect as you expect him or her to give to you. If you have an appointment scheduled with your counselor or VR provider, don’t miss it. If you can’t make a meeting or appointment, give as much notice as you can that you can’t make the meeting or appointment and reschedule it as soon as possible.
How to request VR goods and services
Step 1: Referral and application
The first step in getting VR services is a referral to the local DVRS or DSB office. (A list of all offices is included at the end of this packet.) You or any other person can refer you to VR. If you are referred to VR by someone other than you, the VR office will probably follow up with you to make sure you actually want their help.
After confirming that you want to work with VR, the local VR office will help you begin your application. It should take no more than 21 days to begin the application process.
Step 2: Becoming eligible for VR goods and services
After the application is complete, VR has 60 days to decide if you are eligible for VR services. VR may order an evaluation of you to decide if you will benefit from VR services. All evaluations should be done in settings that include people without disabilities whenever possible. If you receive SSI or SSDI benefits, VR assumes that you will benefit from its services and should start developing your plan right away.
If VR is concerned that you will not benefit from its services, you must be allowed to have trial work experiences to show that you can work with the right supports. These work experiences must be varied, take place in settings that include people without disabilities, and last long enough to understand your work potential.
VR must provide you whatever supports you need, such as sign language interpretation or assistive communication devices, during any evaluation or trial work experience.
If VR finds that you are not eligible for VR services, VR must inform you in writing and give you the reason for its decision. There are three main reasons why people are not found eligible:
- They do not have a disability that limits their ability to work.
- They do not need VR services to prepare for work, get work, stay on the job, get a job back, or advance in employment.
- Their disability is so severe that they cannot benefit from VR services.
Please note: You must be a resident of North Carolina to be eligible for North Carolina VR services. If you are not a resident of North Carolina, you may request services from the VR program in the State where you are a resident.
VR must meet a very high standard to prove that you are not eligible for services. If you are told you are not eligible for VR services, you may appeal the decision. Many people can successfully appeal this decision.
Step 3: Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE)
A VR counselor should begin creating a plan for you as soon as possible, but no more than 90 days after you were found eligible. The only time your plan should take more than 90 days to be put together is if you agree to give your counselor more time, and agree to a specific date on which your plan will be finished. Extending the deadline should only happen when you need to extend the deadline, not for the convenience of your VR counselor.
The VR program must help you get a job in your community making at least a minimum wage. The plan should address your individual work needs. It must identify your strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities, and interests as they relate to work. The VR counselor may gather this information by reviewing your existing records, talking with people who are familiar with your work abilities and capabilities, and evaluating your work skills and work needs in real life settings.
The VR counselor should use the information he or she has gathered to help you choose the employment goal for your work plan and choose what goods and services you will need to achieve your employment goal. Your employment goal may include finding a job in the community, becoming self-employed, retaining or regaining a job, or advancing to a better job. Once the work plan is completed and signed, the goods and services included in your plan will begin.
You have the right to change your employment plan, or refuse to sign it if you don’t agree with the employment plan. For example, you might refuse to sign your plan if it does not include all the goods and services you need, if you are unhappy with the goods and services you are receiving, if you would like to change your service provider or service setting, or if you would like to change your employment goal. If you end up in a disagreement with your counselor over your employment plan, you can challenge their decision. See the section on standing up for your rights for instructions on how to do so.
Available VR goods and services
There are a number of different goods and services that VR can provide if needed to help you achieve your employment goal. Some goods and services are called “core” goods and services, while others are called “support” goods and services. You must choose at least one core good or service in order to receive support goods and services. Core goods and services include counseling and guidance, diagnosis and treatment of a medical or physical impairment, job training, job-related services, and rehabilitation technology.
Requesting “Other” Goods and Services. A chart of VR goods and services can be found at the end of this packet. Even if a good or service is not listed, you may request it as part of your individualized employment plan so long as it is necessary for the success of your employment goal.
VR may not place a fixed dollar limit on a good or service or the total amount of goods and services you can receive. VR counselors, however, are limited in the cost of goods and services they can individually approve. If you request a good or service that costs more than what your VR counselor can approve, the VR chief of policy will have to approve the purchase.
Before providing you with goods and services, your VR counselor must check and see if someone else can pay for them. For example, people who are eligible for employment services through Medicaid may not be able to get those same goods and services through VR. VR is not permitted to check if someone else would pay for a good or service if it would interrupt or delay your progress toward completing your employment goal, interrupt or delay a job placement for you, or a medical professional has determined that stopping the good or service is an extreme medical risk to you.
Services that do not require a search for comparable goods and services include:
- counseling and guidance
- referrals to other agencies
- job-search assistance
- job placement
- job-retention services
- follow-up services
- follow-along services
VR will consider your ability to pay for goods and services when making decisions about the goods and services it will provide. If you receive SSI or SSDI benefits, you will not have to pay for any VR goods and services, but you will have to provide proof of your monthly check amount. If you do not receive SSI or SSDI, you will have to give VR information about your finances before VR will agree to pay for certain goods and services. (At the end of the packet is a chart that shows which VR goods and services you may have to help pay for.)
There are set limits to how much VR can require you to contribute to the cost of a good or service. The amount must be reasonable based on your ability to pay, must take into account the amount of money you already spend on disability-related expenses, and must not be so high as to effectively deny you the good or service. VR may not require you to take out a loan in order to pay for a good or service. If VR is requiring you to contribute to the cost of your goods and services and you cannot afford it, you can challenge the decision. Go to the section in this packet on appealing decisions you don’t agree with for instructions on how to do so.
Spotlight on post-employment services
In certain situations, people who have already gotten a job through VR may receive additional support from VR. Situations where this may be possible include the worsening of a medical condition that is affecting your employment, you lack resources (such as transportation or day care) that might cause you to lose your job, or you need to learn new job tasks or new technology at work.
Post-employment services are valuable because they allow you to avoid the lengthy process it ordinarily takes to receive VR services. There is no point in time at which post-employment services are no longer available to you.
If you are not eligible for post-employment services, you may always reapply for VR services. VR will open up a new case file, determine if you are still eligible for the VR program, and develop a plan for employment. Anyone may reapply for VR services at almost any time, including people whose cases were closed as “unsuccessful.”
Your VR Rights
1. Informed choice
You have the right to receive information from VR that will help you make decisions about your plan for employment.
This includes the right to know:
- What goods and services are available to you;
- How much these goods and services will cost;
- How to access the goods and services;
- How long you can receive the goods and services;
- If the services will be in a setting that includes people without disabilities;
- The qualifications of different services providers; and,
- Consumer satisfaction surveys for all the different service providers, to the extent they are available.
People with disabilities (and their representatives) are full partners in the development and achievement of the work plan. A VR counselor’s role is to assist you with making meaningful and informed choices throughout your time in the VR program.
If a counselor is not asking, but telling, you which goods and services you must have, he or she is preventing you from making informed choices and you may have the right to request and receive a new counselor and/or appeal the decision.
Once you have all the information you need, it is your right to decide on your employment goal, what goods and services you need to achieve your goal, the settings where you will receive services, and the providers who will provide your services.
To figure out if you are making informed choices, ask yourself:
- Are you getting all the information you need and want before you are asked to make a decision?
- Did you get to choose the type of job you are training for?
- Were you allowed to choose the goods and services that went into your employment plan?
- Were you allowed to choose who would provide the goods and services in your employment plan?
- Were you asked where you wanted to receive work training, and if you wanted it to be in the community?
If you answered no to any of these questions, you may have been denied your right to make informed choices about your employment plan. You can ask to change your employment plan, and you may appeal any parts of your plan you do not agree with.
2. Integrated employment services and outcomes
You have a right to receive VR services in a community setting where you interact with people who do not have disabilities as much as possible. Your job coach or other person providing you with services does not count toward this requirement. VR must give you every opportunity to receive services in a setting that includes people without disabilities before arranging for you to receive services in a setting where you would spend most of your time with other people with disabilities.
3. Subminimum wage employees
If you currently earn less than the minimum wage, VR must provide you with career counseling and information and referral services at least once a year. If you have just started working at a job where you earn less than the minimum wage, VR must provide you with career counseling and information and referral services within six months of your start date and once a year after that.
There are additional requirements for people with disabilities who are between the ages of 14 and 24. People of this age are not allowed to be paid less than the minimum wage unless:
- You received pre-employment transition services or special education-related transition services;
- Your VR case was closed because you were unsuccessful at employment; and
- You received career counseling.
4. Access to personal records
Except in a few instances, VR must not share your information with anyone else. You (or your representative) can receive your personal information after requesting it in writing.
The VR program must communicate with you in a way that allows you to make informed choices (the first VR right we described above) throughout the VR process.
6. Program Accessibility
VR is required to make the program accessible to you unless doing so would fundamentally change the program or be an undue burden.
Tips for being a good advocate for yourself in the VR process
Take personal responsibility
- Learn your rights under the law and how to protect those rights.
- Be clear about what you need and want.
- Always go to scheduled meetings or reschedule meetings ahead of time.
- Be prepared to take notes or to have someone take notes for you.
- Take someone with you to meetings if you need help advocating for what you want.
- Don’t sign forms without understanding them and agreeing to what is in them.
- Write down any important things you want to remember to say in your meeting.
- Stay calm and be willing to listen.
- Thank people when they help you.
- Do not give up! Believe in yourself!
Keep good records
- Keep notes about times, dates, who you talked to, and what they told you.
- Keep copies of your documents (remember you can also request your personal records from VR).
- If goods and services are not being provided when promised – write it down!
Learn the facts
- Ask ahead of time about when, where, and what the meeting is about and who will be there.
- Ask for a copy of the laws or rules being quoted to you.
- Ask that any decisions be put in writing.
Appealing VR decisions you do not agree with
There are ways that people can advocate for themselves without having to make a written complaint. You can contact your VR counselor, the counselor’s unit manager, the regional director, or the Client Assistance Program for help resolving a dispute.
There are also formal ways to stand up for your rights. You may challenge any decision made by the VR program. To do so, you must send a complaint made in writing to the regional director (for DVRS) or area supervisor (for DSB) with a request that the division provide you with an administrative hearing, mediation, and/or an impartial hearing. You may request one, two, or all three types of review in the letter.
Once you make a written complaint, VR cannot suspend, reduce or terminate any of your goods or services until resolving the appeal, unless you got the goods and services by lying or criminal conduct.
When you make a formal complaint about your issue with the VR program, you must complain in writing. You should:
- Get the name and address of the regional director (for DVRS) or area supervisor (for DSB) from your local office.
- Address your letter to the regional director (for DVRS) or area supervisor (for DSB).
- State your name, address, and telephone number in the letter.
- Explain how the VR program has violated your rights or failed you in its duties.
- Explain what you want to happen as a result of the complaint.
- Request an administrative review, mediation, and/or an impartial hearing
View Sample Letters
1. Administrative review
After receiving a complaint, the person put in charge of reviewing your complaint has 15 days to do an investigation and give their recommendations. This person will be someone who works for VR but who was not involved in the decision you are challenging. Typically, this person will look at your VR case file, talk with people at VR about your complaint, and meet with you and ask you questions about your complaint. You may refuse to answer any questions you do not want to answer. After the meeting with you is finished, you will get a decision about your complaint within 5 working days. You have the right to accept or reject the decision.
If you and VR both agree to mediation, VR will pay for a mediator. The mediator is a neutral person, meaning they are not on your side or VR’s side, who helps you and VR come to an agreement on how to resolve your complaint.
3. Impartial due process hearing
A hearing provides both you and VR the opportunity to be heard in front of a hearing officer who is not employed by VR. Once VR receives your written complaint, it must schedule the hearing within 45 days for DVRS, and 60 days for DSB. The hearing officer will issue a decision within 30 days after the hearing. At the hearing, you have the right to present witnesses, introduce evidence, and cross-examine DVRS or DSB’s witnesses. A lawyer may represent you at the hearing.
4. The Client Assistance Program (CAP)
CAP is responsible for helping you resolve differences with the VR program. This may include legal advocacy in some situations. CAP may be reached by calling 919-855-3600, or 1.800.215.7227 (toll free), or by emailing NCCAP@dhhs.nc.gov.
Be Persistent with CAP. CAP may ask you to try and resolve your issue by talking with your counselor, unit manager, and/or the regional director or area supervisor. If this advice does not work call CAP back and request that CAP intervene or help you with an appeal. Don’t give up! You may call Disability Rights NC (919-856-2195) if CAP does not help you.
Available VR goods and services
|Name of Goods or Service||“Core” Service||Support Service||Comparable Benefits||Financial Needs Test|
|Academic Note Takers||X||X|
|Equipment for Post-Secondary Training (e.g. computers)||X||X||X|
|Equipment for Job Placement||X||X||X|
|Durable Medical Equipment||X||X||X|
|Foreign Language Interpreters||X|
|Sign Language Interpreters||X|
|Oral Interpreting Services||X|
|Tactile Interpreting Services||X|
|Career Counseling & Guidance||X|
|Driver’s Evaluation & Training||X||X||X|
|Information & Referral||X|
|Job Development (e.g. job search)||X|
|Room, Board, Incidentals while training, clothing for interviews||X||X||X (unless needed for assessment)|
|Personal Hygiene Items (in support of an assessment)||X||X||X|
|Personal Assistance Services||X||X|
|Physical Restoration (e.g. hearing aids, orthotics, prosthetics, visual services, chiropractic services, medical drugs and supplies, dental services, hospitalizations, home health, speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy)||X||X||X|
|Physical Capacity Assessment / Functional Capacity Evaluation (an assessment)||X||X|
|Rehab Engineer Evaluation (an assessment)||X||X|
|Assistive Technology Services||X||X|
|Modifications (work site, home, vehicle)||X||X||X|
|Services to Family Members (if needed for client’s rehab)||X||X||X|
|Postsecondary Training (e.g. colleges, universities, community colleges, technical institutes, vocational schools, graduate schools)||X||X||X|
|On-the-Job Training (employer directed training)||X||X|
|Pre-employment training (called work adjustment training)||X||X|
|Job Coaching (work adjustment)||X|
|Brain Injury Support Services||X|
|Employment Marketing Course (job seeking skills)||X|
|Pre-employment Transition Services||X||X|
|Car Insurance or Car Repairs||X||X||X|
Contact info for VR offices
Local offices of the Division of Services for the Blind