Veteran Advisor: Independent Living
The Department of Veterans Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Services provides eligible veterans with a wide range of vocational and educational counseling services designed to help an individual choose and train for a vocation.
However, what about veterans who have disabilities preventing them from becoming employed and require assistance with activities of daily living (ADL)? For many, the answer may be independent living services.
The purpose of independent living services is to assist eligible veterans whose ability to function independently is so limited by the severity of their service-connected disability, together with their non-service connected disabilities, that vocational or rehabilitative services need to be appreciably more extensive.
The goal is to allow an individual to participate in family and community life to the maximum extent possible without the assistance of others, as well as increase the potential to return to work.
To be eligible for independent living services, a veteran must meet all of these following criteria:
Have a service connected disability rating of at least 20%
Have a serious employment handicap (SEH) resulting in a substantial part from the service connected disability
Have had a vocational rehab counselor/counseling psychologist’s determination that the achievement of a vocational goal isn’t currently reasonably feasible
A reasonable likelihood that the services provided will increase the individual’s level of independence
Have ADL limitations that impact his or her level of independence
A reasonable likelihood that the gains in independence will continue following completion of the program of independent living services
A SEH is defined as a significant impairment of a veteran’s ability to prepare for, obtain or retain employment consistent with such veteran’s abilities, aptitudes and interests.
The significant impairment may include restrictions caused by the physical disability itself, deficiencies in education and training or negative attitudes toward the disabled. A service-connected disability need not be the sole or primary cause of the employment handicap or dependence on the services of others, but it must materially contribute to it.
The impact of the service-connected disability must be identifiable, measurable or observable.
Consideration for independent living services begins by submitting VA Form 28-1900 (va.gov/vaforms).
A Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC) will meet with the applicant to conduct a comprehensive evaluation to determine entitlement to services. If an individual is found entitled, but employment goals aren’t currently feasible, an evaluation of the veteran’s independent living needs will be conducted.
An Individualized Independent Living Plan (IILP) will be specifically tailored to each individual by the VRC and veteran. They’ll work together to identify the veteran’s needs and determine what services are available to address those needs.
Services provided in an IILP may include, but aren’t limited to:
Specialized medical, health and rehabilitation services
Services to address both personal and family adjustment issues
Independent living skills training
Attendant care training
Assistive technology equipment and training
Identification of appropriate housing accommodations
Connection with community-based support services
Coordination with available federal, state and local government services
A monthly allowance when authorized by law
Assistance in maintaining the newly achieved level of independence
Services may also include accommodations to continue an ongoing hobby, but services are no longer available for establishing a new one.
VR&E services are normally limited to the 12-year period following discharge from military service. However, this period may be extended when the individual’s medical condition is so severe that achievement of a vocational goal isn’t currently reasonably feasible or the extension is necessary to ensure the individual will achieve maximum independence in daily living. These criteria are met by a number of Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) members based on paralysis or the progression of spinal-cord disease, with or without the effects of additional disabilities.
Independent living services may be provided for 24 months and extensions may be granted when:
n The VR&E counselor determines that a longer period is necessary and likely to result in a substantial increase in the individual’s level of independence in daily living, in which case a six-month extension may be granted.
n An individual meeting the above criteria served on active duty during the post 9/11 Global Operations period and has a severe disability incurred or aggravated in such service, in which case a second six-month extension may be added.
It’s important to note that service members, who are entitled to independent living services under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 as extended by the Vow to Hire Heroes Act, can only receive independent living services that focus on the transition to civilian life, not retention in the military.
Kenneth Fink is a PVA Senior NSO in Portland, Ore.
Veteran Advisor: Independent Living
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