By Erin Smith
Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment is a program that many people are unfamiliar with and are unsure of exactly what it entails. The program is one of the oldest social programs within the federal government, according to Mac Britt, who is a counselor with Vocational Rehabilitation Services in Elizabethtown.
The program is designed to assist people with physical or intellectual impairments gain employment. The Vocational Rehabilitation Services Office in Elizabethtown has two counselors, Mac Britt, who works with the adult clients, and Valtrese Johnson who works with high school students. Michael Ramey works with the employers by assisting them in developing strategies that allow them to hire employees with substantial disabling conditions.
In Bladen County, the Vocational Rehabilitation program has an office located at 2948 W. Broad Street in Elizabethtown. People are welcome to walk in and the staff there will answer questions and assist them in completing the necessary in-take forms to determine what services or programs will be most beneficial for them.
Britt said the core services provided by Vocational Rehabilitation are guidance and counseling; mental and physical restoration; training; job placement services; On-the-Job- Training; supported employment; job coaching; and rehabilitation technology.
“We are not a direct provider for mental health services,” said Britt. In the event someone needs such services, they are referred to a certified mental health provider.
Johnson said Vocational Rehabilitation Services has partnerships with such places as N.C. Works and Bladen Community College to assist clients with such things as job placement or job training.
Johnson said she works with students at both East Bladen High School and West Bladen High School. She said she is present at each high school one or more days per week. Johnson assists with such things as developing 504 plans, assisting students with chronic intellectual deficiencies, and assisting the Exceptional Children’s Department. She said there are things Vocational Rehab cannot offer assistance for such as a broken arm.
There are basically two caseloads that are worked at the Elizabethtown Vocational Rehab office— adults and high school students. Both Britt and Johnson had say they each see from 85 to 100 cases that are in various stages from beginning in-take to completing the program and finding employment. Britt and Johnson both said they had 30 successful placements last year.
Britt explained funding for the Vocational Rehab program is a combination of federal and state dollars that are combined to make an 80/20 match. The program is administered by the individual states. Here in North Carolina, Vocational Rehabilitation Services is overseen by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Britt said eligibility to receive services through Vocational Rehabilitation is based on the potential client having a “substantial disabling condition.” Once it is established a potential client is eligible to receive services, an individualized plan of employment is developed. Britt said if someone is found to be ineligible to receive services through Vocational Rehabilitation, the staff tries to refer them to other agencies to who can better assist them.
In the event a potential client is receiving Social Security Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Income, they are still eligible to receive Vocational Rehabilitation Services and return to work. Britt said each state has the discretion to establish a financial needs test for various programs it provides through Vocational Rehab. The State of North Carolina does offer a financial needs based test for some services, said Britt.
Both Britt and Johnson said the overall goal of Vocational Rehab is to help the client to achieve their goal of employment.