Social Security Found Me Disabled, Do I Really Have to Participate in Vocational Rehabilitation for Worker’s Compensation?
The question seems to imply the answer: if Social Security already found you disabled, there is no reason why vocational rehabilitation should be necessary for your worker’s compensation claim. After all, you’ve already been found disabled by the Federal Government.
Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. In Washington State, the Department of Labor and Industries administers injured worker claims; or in the case of self-insured employers, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries oversees the administration of claims for injured workers. This means that their determination regarding the ability of a worker to obtain or perform gainful employment on a reasonably continuous basis is made independent of the determination of other governmental agencies. To some, this may seem unfair. After all, if one is collecting a disability check from one agency, the determination of disability should apply to other agencies it would seem. But if you turn this around for a moment, an injured worker also would not want an unfavorable determination by Social Security, one in which a person was found not disabled, to be used against them in their separate worker’s compensation claim. Similarly, one would not want an unfavorable disability determination in a worker’s compensation claim to be used against them in a claim for Social Security Disability or SSI.
But the rationale has really nothing to do with equity between the two systems. The fact is that the two systems operate completely independently of each other. They each have their own rules and regulations that the appropriate legislative body requires they follow. Knowing that the two systems must operate completely independently of one another should help you understand why a finding by one agency cannot be used in a completely different agency.
It helps also to understand that Social Security does not consider what medical conditions arose from what legal causes, whereas in the Worker’s Compensation system in Washington state, the question of causation is ever-present. For example, in a Worker’s Compensation claim in Washington State, preexisting conditions and those conditions proximately caused by the industrial injury are the conditions which must be considered in determining whether an injured worker is able to work. By contrast, Social Security cares naught for causation, the only question before Social Security is whether the medical conditions impair occupational functioning. And where Washington’s Worker’s Compensation system gives little weight to pain, Social Security is required to consider pain as a disabling component to the extent that it is consistent with the medical condition causing the pain.
Of course, Social Security does not provide vocational retraining. Their inquiry is limited to the ability of the individual to work. The Washington state Worker’s Compensation system may still require a person to engage in vocational assessment, and even retraining, if they determine that there is a chance for the injured worker to return to reasonably continuous gainful employment. All effort will be made in the Washington state Worker’s Compensation system to facilitate the worker’s return to work before the determination is made that they are permanently and totally disabled and therefore eligible for a permanent, total disability pension benefits.
If you find yourself unable to work, you should consult an attorney who can assist you in your claims.