People with work injury in Washington State may be eligible for retraining under their L&I claim or workers’ compensation claim. The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) provides more benefits than just medical coverage. In fact, the Industrial Insurance Act lists a variety of benefits including medical, wage replacement, vocational services, retraining, disability awards, and even disability pensions.
Vocation retraining eligibility under L&I claim
Not all work injury claimants are eligible to receive all the benefits under the Industrial Insurance Act. Realistically, benefit entitlement depends on the specific facts. They also depend on the circumstances of each L&I claim. Vocational retraining is possible when a person can never go back to work at their job of injury, or any other job for which they have relevant skills. Usually, deciding whether a person can work is based on objective medical evidence. Generally, the medical evidence includes things that medical providers can see, feel, or measure. However, in cases involving non-objective medical conditions such as mental health, those cases don’t require objective evidence.
Vocational retraining plan under L&I claim
When a person cannot return to their job, or doesn’t have the skill to perform other work, they may be eligible for vocational retraining. L&I assigns vocational counselors to determine if retraining is appropriate. If it is, the vocational counselor prepares and submits a retraining plan for approval. There must be a concrete job goal for the plan. Moreover, the job must be available in the work injury claimant’s labor market. Finally, the retraining can take as long as two years. As of July 1, 2021, the maximum allowed cost for retraining under a workers’ compensation claim increased to $19,414.34.
Option 1 vs option 2 in vocational retraining
Once L&I approves your retraining, you can choose between Option 1 and Option 2. Choosing an option is a very serious decision. With Option 1, it means you agree to fully participate in the retraining that L&I approved. This includes registering for and attending classes as well as maintaining satisfactory grades. Here, you will have to complete all class requirements and maintain contact with the vocational counselor.
In contrast, Option 2 is essentially opting out of retraining. When you choose option 2 you get a “vocational award” equivalent to 9 months of time loss compensation. After that, L&I pays the benefit payments in installments, the claim is closed, and you receive permanent partial disability (PPD) award as appropriate. You may also access retraining funds to use at any accredited facility you choose. However, you can only use the money for classes, education, or retraining.
Conclusion and final notes
The decision to go with Option 2 and opt out of retraining has serious implications. In my opinion, people with a workers’ compensation claim should not select Option 2 after a work injury because they feel they have no choices. There’s always some other choice. If you feel that Option 2 is your only choice, then you should consult with a workers’ compensation attorney before you make a decision.