Voc Rehab is the state agency responsible for helping disabled people, including those with HIV, prepare for the workplace. Voc Rehab funds a wide variety of employment-related activities, including technical training, schooling or academic work, vocational and skills testing, equipment when necessary, transportation, counseling, some job placement and post-employment services, clothing, etc.
To get assistance, you must contact a Voc Rehab office, attend an orientation session, and meet with a Voc Rehab counselor. The counselor must prove: 1) that you are disabled enough to qualify for services and 2) that Voc Rehab's assistance is required to help you move toward employment. There are no financial eligibilities. You and your counselor are supposed to draft a written plan, outlining your schooling and job goals. Voc Rehabs interest is in getting you from disability to work as quickly and cheaply as possible. If your agenda is more involved, or entails years of schooling, you are more likely to get the program you want if your goals are clear-cut and if you research your own study plan.
Work on your own agenda. Write up a plan before you meet with a counselor.
Decide what you want to do first (if possible). If you don’t know, call Work Services to get career counseling, assistance in working out a plan, etc.
Research training or schools that teach the courses you want. Get comparative costs. Voc Rehab prefers the least expensive option (community colleges as opposed to state universities). If your plan involves more expensive or private schooling, you will have to justify it.
If you are working, prove that your plan will either keep you at work or allow you to go from part- to full-time work.
Stick to your guns; don’t let Voc Rehab talk you into something you are not interested in.
You can request a change of counselors or offices, if necessary.
Voc Rehab counselors score you according to the severity of your disability. They may not be very familiar with HIV. You need to mention every possible symptom that you have, or have had, that interferes with your ability to work.
Write down and mention, in your interview, every symptom you have had (if you don’t say you had it, the Voc Rehab counselor doesn’t know about it).
Connect symptoms to “functional incapacity” when possible (for example: “My medications make it hard for me to concentrate on specific tasks.”).
Voc Rehab counselors require medical questionnaires from you and your doctor; fill them out completely and thoroughly; mention all your symptoms (fatigue, depression, nausea, etc.).
Take a copy of your entire medical file to your Voc Rehab counselor, even if he/she doesn’t ask for it.
Mental/emotional problems add to your disability; if you have been in therapy, on psych meds (Prozac, etc.), seen a psychiatrist, etc., take those records in with you.
If Voc Rehab denies or delays your claim, appeal the decision.
Voc Rehab must prove that their services are “required” to assist you. If you have job skills, but want to change careers, you will have to justify the change.
Health: A good justification is change in health status. (“I can’t work in a restaurant anymore because of my neuropathy, so I need training in computers.”)
Outdated skills: “I could make good money as a manicurist, but those jobs are gone,” or “My degree in French literature is useless in the job market, unless I can get my credential to teach.”
Danger: “Even though I’m a certified lab tech, it’s dangerous for me to be working around blood and needles.”
Voc Rehab is often a difficult bureaucracy to deal with. Prepare yourself first. Some offices and counselors may okay your plan, other will not. Appeal any denials. Voc Rehab is outcome based; they want you to return to work. If you want training or education, but are not ready for work, you may be better off financing your training in other ways. Voc Rehab assistance can be used in conjunction with other forms of financial aid. Best advice: talk to a benefits or career counselor before you go to Voc Rehab.