If you've been placed into the Vocational Rehabilitation program, I strongly recommend you read the FECA Manual part 2 at 2-0813. This is the section of the FECA Manual that covers OWCP's vocational rehab services and explains the responsibilities of you, your Claims Examiner, (CE) and your Rehabilitation Counselor, (RC).

The vocational rehab program is mandatory, which means you must cooperate during the process. If you don't, OWCP will more than likely suspend your monetary benefits until you do. The vocational rehab process could affect the rest of your working life and in order to protect yourself, you need to know OWCP has met its responsibilities. Listed below are some of the highlights of the FECA Manual part 2 at 2-0813. You can find the FECA Manual part 2 on the "Links" page.

Your referral into the vocational rehab program is done by your CE. Your CE must determine that the medical evidence indicates you have objective residuals of your work-related injuries and that your file contains stable, well-defined work limitations. Your CE must also indicate what medical evidence your work limitations came from. In other words, which medical report or physician is the weight of medical evidence.

The role of your RC is an important one, however, some RC's are simply interested in getting you off OWCP's rolls. Some RC's will manipulate the facts to accomplish this, which is why it is so important that you understand your rights under the program. I recommend you take a tape recorder to any appointment or meeting with your RC. This way, there is no doubt who said what if there's a problem later. You cannot legally tape on Federal property, but otherwise there shouldn't be a problem if your RC is on the up-and-up. If your RC has an extreme reaction to the tape recorder, that's a clue your RC may not be as professional as they should be and even more reason to be cautious in staying on top of your case.

Your RC begins by working with you and your employer for 90 days to find a suitable position within your medical restrictions. If, by the 85th day a job offer is not made by your employer, the RC must develop a new plan based on vocational testing, which may include medical rehabilitation, training and/or placement services for a new employer.

The RC has 90 days from your referral date (the date of your letter from your CE stating you're being placed into vocational rehabilitation) to submit a vocational rehabilitation plan. Your plan should be reviewed by your CE for a medical suitability determination. At that point, your CE should send you a letter stating the RC's plan has been approved.

Your vocational rehabilitation plan should include the following information:

The RC must identify jobs that are medically and vocationally suitable. This means you must be able to physically do the job and you must also have enough skills to do the job. If the RC said you could be a stock clerk and you have a 10 pound weight limitation, stock clerk is not medically suitable since a stock clerk has to lift more that 10 pounds. If the RC says you can be a typist, but you've never typed in your life, you would need training to be a typist because you don't know how to type. Without training, the job of a typist is not vocationally suitable because you don't have the skills to be a typist. The RC must also document that after any training you will be able to perform the job.

Any training you require must also be within your medical restrictions. So if your training requires you to reach over your shoulder and you have a no over the shoulder reaching restriction, your training isn't within your medical restrictions and is not medically suitable.

The jobs the RC identifies, must also be reasonably available in sufficient numbers within your commuting area. This does not mean job openings. The most basic way I can explain it is, if you lived in Montana and the RC said you can be an astronaut, that's not a job reasonably available in sufficient numbers in your commuting area since Montana does not have a sufficient number of astronaut positions regardless of the commuting area.

Whatever jobs the RC identifies, must be documented as reasonably available in sufficient numbers by doing a labor market survey, citing sources such as the local State employment service, the local Chamber of Commerce, industrial survey(s) and actual job postings. This is also where your RC will establish the salary of the identified jobs.

The RC uses The Dictionary of Occupational Titles, (DOT) to determine the jobs are medically suitable. DOT can now be found at the O*NET site. You can find O*NET on the "Links" page. Just look up the jobs the RC identified. O*NET will list the physical requirements of the job, the skills required, how often a physical function is required, etc...Any jobs the RC identifies for you should be checked against the requirements from the O*NET site to confirm they are actually within your medical restrictions and skills.

If the job is not within your medical restrictions, this should be brought to the attention of your CE via letter. A copy of the O*NET job description should be included with your letter, as this is your proof. You should list out each of your medical restrictions that does not conform with the physical requirements of the job the RC identified. So, let's say you have a 10 pound weight limitation and a no over the shoulder reaching restriction and the physical requirements on O*NET state the identified job requires a minimum of 20 pounds lifting and requires reaching over the shoulder several hours per day. You want to quote your restrictions and then indicate what O*NET states. You then want to say the identified position(s) are therefore not medically suitable.

These are the physical demands limits per the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Once you've been classified as able to work in a Sedentary, Light, Medium, Heavy or Very Heavy position, the position should be checked against these requirements to confirm the positions are medically suitable:

Weight limitations (Lifted, carried, pushed and/or pulled):

Sedentary: 0-10 pounds occasionally
Light: 11-20 pounds occasionally, 0-10 pounds frequently
Medium: 20-50 pounds occasionally, 10-25 pounds frequently, 0-10 pounds constantly
Heavy: 50-100 pounds occasionally, 25-50 pounds frequently, 10-20 pounds constantly
Very Heavy: 100+ pounds occasionally, 50+ pounds frequently, 20+ pounds constantly
Presence and/or frequency as described by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles:
Not present: The activity/condition does not exist or zero hours per 8 hour day
Occasionally: The activity/condition exists up to 1/3 of the time or 2 hours 40 minutes per 8 hour day
Frequently: The activity/condition exists from 1/3 to 2/3 of the time or 5 hours 20 minutes per 8 hour day
Constantly: The activity/condition exists from 2/3 or more of the time or 8 hours per day
The RC must identify at least two different jobs that are medically and vocationally suitable and must complete an OWCP-66 for each job identified.

 The RC must list the job description, the physician requirements and/or any environmental condition definitions. Again, the RC finds this information at the O*NET site.

The RC's plan should describe specific actions which are to be taken by you, the RC and any other professional(s) or facilities to reach the plans goals. In other words, the name of the people that are going to be involved, the name(s) of any facilities that are going to be involved. The RC should include an estimate of the time and costs required. If training is required, the RC should discuss the difference between your earning capacity with and without training.

Once jobs are identified, your RC is responsible for providing you job search services. This can be providing you job leads and contacting employers on you behalf, identifying any obstacles and problems you're having with your job search, helping with interview skills and assisting you in preparing a resume.

Changes in your medical conditions during vocational rehab should be brought to the attention of your CE. A narrative medical report will need to be provided as proof of the change. If your physician changes a restriction or there's been a change in your medical condition (a worsening, including any non-employment related conditions) your doctor should explain what the change is, why the physician believes the condition changed and why s/he's making any changes to your restrictions, or why a need for medical treatment is necessary. Your physician should be as specific as possible.

It is your CE that reviews the medical evidence and determines whether or not the medical evidence indicates a need for a change. Your RC IS NOT involved in determining any medical changes...that is solely the responsibility of your CE.

If you indicate a change in your medical condition to your RC, your RC has a responsibility to notify your CE.

This is a recent ECAB decision that pertains to changes in medical conditions while in vocational rehab: http://www.dol.gov/ecab/decisions/2011/Feb/10-1119.htm#_ftn13 There are more ECAB decisions pertaining to vocational rehab on the "Useful Stuff" page.

Once your RC has prepared your plan, I would recommend asking for a copy of your vocational rehabilitation file to confirm the RC has supplied all the proper documents, reports, paperwork and that your plan is correct, accurate and factual. If your RC has not supplied proper information or misrepresents your information, it should be brought to the attention of your CE in a letter listing each inaccurate or missing item. You should then state that the RC's plan is not medically, vocationally (or both) suitable. You should quote any FECA Manual passages and/or O*NET descriptions that confirm your position as well as citing any ECAB decisions that back you up.

Other considerations are the physical activities themselves. These are OWCP's descriptions of physical demand requirements:
Reaching: Extending hand(s) and arm(s) in any direction, including overhead reaching or reaching above the shoulder;
Twisting: Turning, twisting, contorting, or flexing the torso in any direction towards the right or left;
Bending/Stooping: Bending the body downward and forward by bending spine at the waist, requiring full use of the lower extremities and back muscles;
Operating a motor vehicle at work: Driving any vehicle during the performance of one's duties;
Repetitive movements of elbows (handling): Seizing, holding, grasping, turning, or otherwise working with hand or hands using the whole arm;
Repetitive movements of wrists (fingering): Picking, pinching, or otherwise working primarily with fingers and wrists rather than the whole arm as in handling;
Squatting (crouching): Bending body downward and forward by bending legs and spine;
Kneeling: Bending legs at knees to come to rest on knee or knees; and
Climbing: Ascending or descending ladders, stairs, scaffolding, ramps, poles, and the like, using feet and legs or hands and arms. Body agility is emphasized.

If you want to request a copy of your Vocational Rehab file, I've put a sample letter on the "How To" page.