VR TIP: The Goal of the VR Program Under WIOA
by Amy Scherer, NDRN Staff Attorney
On July 22, 2014, Congress passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). This piece of legislation made some significant and important changes to the VR program. Much of the focus has been on the alterations made to transition services and the addition of pre-employment transition services.
However, there was also a change in the stated purpose of the VR program which has key ramifications that should not be overlooked.
Prior to WIOA, the overall goal of the VR program was to help individuals with disabilities “prepare for, secure, retain or regain employment.” This goal met the needs of many VR clients. But, it left one particular segment of that group in limbo. What if an individual was successfully and happily employed, but required the services of VR in order to be considered for a promotion at their job? Could VR step in and assist this individual? Based upon the specific statutory language of the Rehab Act, the answer was unclear and somewhat open to debate.
Some clarification was provided by the definition of post-employment services provided in the Code of Federal Regulations. Although certainly not a necessity for every client, post-employment services can be an essential step in an individual’s journey to reach his/her ultimate employment goal. Implemented after the successful achievement of the client’s initially identified employment outcome, post-employment services are defined as “one or more services necessary to assist an individual to retain, regain or ADVANCE (emphasis added) in employment” [34 CFR § 361.5(b)(42)].
So, the definition of post-employment services opened up the possibility of VR support for advancement in employment which was a positive step. But, the caveat provided by this regulation remained narrow because the concept of advancement was being applied specifically within the context of post-employment services. More information about the topic of upward mobility or advancement in employment was provided by a Policy Directive (PD) released by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) in August of 1997. This PD stated:
“The provision of VR services to an eligible individual who is currently employed, but whose job is not consistent with the individual’s strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, and capabilities, must assist that individual to obtain employment consistent with the individual’s primary employment factors and informed choice. Under such circumstances, VR services would be provided for “career advancement” or “upward mobility” purposes.” (RSA PD-97-04)
This Policy Directive widened the door further for the possibility of VR’s support of an individual’s career advancement. But, as the directive makes clear, this route was determined to be appropriate only if the person’s current job was inconsistent with his/her current strengths and capabilities. Additionally, although VR seemingly embraced the concept of career advancement in this directive, its impact was somewhat lessened since the crucial language was not found in the statute or the federal regulations.
WIOA finally rectified the situation by changing the language in the statute itself. Under § 722(a)(1)(B), may require VR services to advance in (emphasis added) employment, not just obtain, maintain or regain employment.
The small, but critical, change made in the statutory language of WIOA should make it easier for VR clients to access needed services in order to achieve advancement or upward mobility within their profession.
Each VR Tip is intended to provide brief information about a particular VR-related topic. It is here to answer common questions posed by CAP advocates on a variety of issues.