“He’ll never go back to school.” “He’ll never complete school.”
As a representative of injured workers, I hear those refrains on repeat from insurance carriers. And, guess what? It’s just not true.
Vocational retraining claims straddle the line between being a worker’s advocate and being their social worker. Under the law, if an injured worker has permanent limitations following an injury that does not allow them to return to their former employer, they can pursue vocational retraining benefits-which includes receiving weekly workers’ compensation benefits (2/3 of weekly wage) along with compensation for meals, parking, books, mileage and tuition. As an advocate, I’m urging an injured worker to pursue retraining to maximize their benefits under the law. But more importantly, I put on my “social worker” hat to encourage these workers to return to school as a means to help themselves, their families, and society as a whole.
Restoring an injured workers’ earning capacity serves as the underpinning behind vocational retraining benefits. Simply put, we want to incentivize working. If a worker is too injured to return to their old line of work, let’s try to get that worker retrained (presumably to a less physical field) so they can reenter the workplace and be a productive member of the economy. Social work and advocacy fit together when encouraging a worker to go back to school.
However, far too many insurance carriers scoff at the viability of injured workers returning to school-especially after decades of absence from a school setting. Even though not everyone is a great school candidate, I’m amazed each and every day watching my clients pursue their retraining with passion and vigor. I feel pride and vindication when that same client forwards me a copy of their certificate or diploma after completing the program. That document is immediately forwarded to the insurance carrier. (I recently forwarded a completed diploma from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and one from Milwaukee Area Technical College).
Most workers just want to be back working. They want to earn income, provide for their families, and find purpose. If a work injury knocks them out of their old job, most workers embrace the idea of going back to school and finding a new field that fits their limitations. Even for individuals with limited eductional backgrounds, most schools provide incredible academic support or remedial programs. Under Wisconsin law, we can claim vocational retraining benefits for remedial or GED programs, even before a worker begins a formalized program (though consulting with an attorney first is best).
I’d urge insurance carrier to not underestimate the efforts of a motivated worker.