Division of Federal Employees' Compensation (DFEC)
RELEASE – REVISION TO FECA VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION HANDBOOK
INITIAL RELEASE – OWCP/DFEC REHABILITATION COUNSELOR HANDBOOK (RCHB)
RELEASE – REVISION TO FECA VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION HANDBOOK
RCHB TRANSMITTAL NO. 21-01
EXPLANATION OF MATERIAL TRANSMITTED:
In February 2015, the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP), Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA) Program published for the first time a Rehabilitation Counselor Handbook (RCHB) to provide Rehabilitation Counselors (RCs) and other OWCP staff with a resource related to the policies and procedures of its Vocational Rehabilitation Program.
The RCHB provides specific instructions and guidelines for the RCs who provide FECA claimants rehabilitation services as part of the FECA Program's Disability Management and Return-To-Work protocols under the FECA. The RCHB's intent is to provide nationally consistent policies and procedures for FECA's vocational rehabilitation program.
Effective April 1, 2021, the FECA Program will be transitioning from a structure in which individual rehabilitation counselors provided services directly under an agreement with OWCP; effective April 1, 2021, all vocational rehabilitation services will be provided through a single central contract.
Part 13, Requirements and Procedures for Billing and Purchases, had provided a description of and procedures for current RC billing activities and facilitating appropriate, timely reimbursement for services rendered. Because billing will now be governed by a central contract, the information in this part is no longer applicable. With this transmittal, Part 13 is removed from the handbook and Part 14, Security of Case Information and the Privacy Act, is renamed as the new Part 13.
Additional updates to the handbook due to this transition to a central contract will be made in future on an as-needed basis.
Federal Employees', Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation
INITIAL RELEASE – OWCP/DFEC REHABILITATION COUNSELOR HANDBOOK (RCHB)
RCHB TRANSMITTAL NO. 15-01
February 26, 2015
The Office of Workers' Compensation (OWCP)/Division of Federal Employees' Compensation (DFEC) Rehabilitation Counselor Handbook is a new publication formulated to provide contract Rehabilitation Counselors (RCs) and other DFEC stakeholders with a resource related to the policies and procedures of the OWCP/DFEC Vocational Rehabilitation Program. The RCHB is meant to replace, and build on, the previously utilized Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Resource Book (commonly known as "The Red Book").
The RCHB provides specific instructions and guidelines for the RCs who are contracted by the DFEC to provide rehabilitation services as part of the Program's Disability Management and Return-To-Work protocols under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA). The program's intent is to provide nationally consistent policies and procedures for DFEC's rehabilitation program.
The RCHB is separated into specific Parts by topic, described below. Each Part has its own Table of Contents which outlines the contents within by labeled paragraphs (similar to the FECA Procedure Manual).
The handbook describes general information as well as specific elements that are required and expected during the various phases of the rehabilitation program, including exhibits with examples of acceptable documentation where warranted. However, implementation of rehabilitation services and related elements may vary across district offices due to district office size, structure or the unique needs of individual rehabilitation cases. For example, Part 12 of the handbook addresses various methods of documenting communications with a focus on the elements the RC should include in his/her communication. Because a preferred method of communication may not be the most functional option for some offices, alternative methods are discussed and are acceptable.
Likewise, Part 12 addresses RC progress report formats. The focus of this part is on the identification of various types of progress reports, the elements that the RC should be including in each report and the generally preferred formatting related to font type and size. The exhibits provide examples of each report type and reflect the inclusion of the required elements. While the style of reporting presented in the example may not be practical for all District Offices (and associated RCs), the intended emphasis here is on the information to be provided in the content of the reports. Similarly, outlines of essential elements to be included in various other commonly utilized rehabilitation reports are included throughout the handbook.
As mentioned above, the intent is to bring focus and consistency to the major components of the rehabilitation program. The RCHB is meant to provide the RC with a resource and reference guide, to be used in conjunction with – and not as a replacement for – formal RC orientation and training sessions conducted in accordance with DFEC RC certification and contracting guidelines and/or individualized instructions provided by DFEC staff.
If any questions arise regarding interpretation or implementation of policies outlined in this handbook in general or with regard to a specific case, the RC should always consult with the DFEC District Rehabilitation Specialist (RS). Note that the FECA Procedure Manual, particularly Chapter 2-0813 and Part 8 also have pertinent information related to vocational rehabilitation within OWCP/DFEC.
Matters of contractual requirements and disciplinary issues (warnings and terminations) are not addressed as these topics are a stipulation of the signed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), the current arrangement for RC services. Information on these topics can be found in the OWCP Procedure Manual. Every RC utilizing this handbook must have agreed to the contractual requirements as evidenced by his/her signature on the MOA. The RC signature on the MOA serves as the RC designation of understanding and agreement to adhere to the contractual requirements and any disciplinary actions that may result from non-compliance. Nothing in this handbook is intended to supplant, override or otherwise modify the terms of the MOA.
EXPLANATION OF MATERIAL TRANSMITTED:
Part 1, Introduction, details the purpose and scope of the RCHB, including a description of the role of the RC within the OWCP/DFEC program arena. The Introduction also provides a brief overview of the OWCP and FECA programs, as well as a description of the general provisions of the FECA. The overview is intended to provide the RC with the basic tenets of the programs for which s/he will be providing services. This material serves as a valuable resource to increase the RC's knowledge base regarding the OWCP/DFEC program goals and objectives, and FECA regulations, which will be of assistance when working with the injured worker and other interested parties. For more specific information pertaining to DFEC policies and procedures, the FECA Procedure Manual (available on the DFEC website) should be consulted.
Part 2, Vocational Rehabilitation Program Overview, describes the mission of the DFEC Vocational Rehabilitation Program and introduces and summarizes for the RC various basic program characteristics and components including: the prioritized hierarchy of return-to-work options; Injured Worker (IW) qualifications for rehabilitation services, entitlement to compensation and the expectation of mandatory participation; the types of rehabilitation services which may be provided and the definition, and expectation, of provision of substantial services. Also included are a discussion of the key participants' roles and responsibilities in the rehabilitation program and DFEC's emphasis on timeliness and concurrent actions during rehabilitation based on agency, departmental and federal goals and initiatives.
Several of these topics are discussed in further detail in subsequent Parts of the handbook.
Part 3, Referrals, provides an overview of the referral process for the DFEC rehabilitation program and will enable the RC to understand how/when referrals are made, the purpose of DFEC-specific forms used in the process and expected time-frames for the initiation of services.
This Part provides information about general rehabilitation referrals as well as Limited Service Referrals. The latter, usually single-service or shorter-term referrals utilized for specific purposes such as the clarification of work restrictions or in "dual tracking" assignments, are discussed in further detail in Part 4 (Medical Rehabilitation) and Part 8 (Dual Tracking).
Part 4, Medical Rehabilitation Services, provides information to assist the RC in understanding Medical Rehabilitation Services in the DFEC process and facilitating these services as per program objectives and time-lines. More specifically, this part discusses and provides examples of various types of medical rehabilitation assignments, when/why these may be provided during the life of a case, and how these may be utilized to assist the IW to prepare for a return to work and/or to assist the CE or Field Nurse in the medical rehabilitation aspects of claims management.
Information is provided to enable the RC to understand the following: rehabilitation referral process and time-lines for services; expectations for monitoring and documentation; procedures to follow for IW non-compliance; and potential outcomes of medical rehabilitation assignments. Additional information is provided about services which require certification by a DFEC-qualified physician or which have other program specific provisions. These include Occupational Rehabilitation Programs (ORPs), Functional Capacity Evaluations (FCE), Housing and Vehicle Modifications and Substance Abuse Treatment programs.
Part 5, Vocational Rehabilitation Services, provides an overview of several regularly utilized professional services provided or facilitated by RCs during the DFEC vocational rehabilitation process. These include: Transferrable Skills Analysis, Ergonomic Evaluation and Assistive Technology Assessments, Vocational Testing and Training. While the Labor Market Survey (LMS) is also a commonly performed service, it is not addressed in this Part, but is included as a part of Plan Development in Part 8.
The following topics are discussed for each of the rehabilitation services noted above: definition and purpose of the service within the FECA rehabilitation program; examples of the pursuit of employment with the previous Federal Employing Agency (EA) or a new employer; DFEC expectations regarding RC professional hours and time-lines; and reporting requirements, including essential elements to be included in formal reports. Finally, each topic also addresses subsequent RC procedures at completion of service and/or for incidents of IW non-compliance.
Other items of note as related to specific services include:
Transferrable Skills Analysis – This section includes a discussion of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), recognized under the FECA as the primary source for occupational information, the challenge posed by the aging of this resource and additional resources and methods which RCs may utilize, with DFEC support, to ensure that occupational recommendations are in accordance with the current labor market.
Vocational Evaluation and Testing – This section includes expanded discussion of vocational examiner qualifications. Emphasis is placed on the necessity of those performing testing to be qualified and certified where necessary to administer specific testing instruments and to practice only within the boundaries of their competence, based on education, training, professional experience and any other applicable credentials. It is the responsibility of the RC, under the guidance of the RS, to adhere to these guidelines and to identify the party who can most appropriately provide any necessary testing.
Training – This section includes information regarding the development and justification of training plans, training pre-requisites and/or requirements and training options, including home-based distance-learning.
The discussion of On-The-Job Training (OJT) in paragraph 5j includes information for the RCs regarding the requirements for internships, or non-paid work-based learning experiences, under the Fair Labor Standards Act. DFEC OJT agreements must meet these requirements, as appropriate. For further source information, RCs are directed to the web-site for the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division, http://www.dol.gov/whd.
Part 6, Placement-Previous Employer (PPE), provides guidance for the RC in his/her role as a liaison with the EA in exploring whether the IW's return to work with his/her former employer is possible. This part describes the general PPE process, potential interventions, time-frames for initiating contact and facilitating case actions and requirements for reporting. Paragraphs 6, 7, and 8 discuss EA job offers, outlining factors which the CE will consider in determining suitability, and providing instructions for subsequent RC intervention when job offers are accepted or rejected by the IW, or no job offer is made.
Dual tracking is discussed in Paragraph 12 as this partnership between the RC and the DFEC Field Nurse may be employed during PPE to promote earlier intervention and return to work.
This part also references applicable federal statutes and regulations including: Section 8151 of the FECA which provides civil service retention rights to Federal employees who have recovered either fully or partially from an employment-related injury or illness, and who can perform the duties of the original job or its equivalent (within one year after beginning compensation). Also referenced is 20 C.F.R. §10.505, under which the Federal employer should make all reasonable efforts to place the employee in his or her former or an equivalent position in accordance with 5 U.S.C. 8151, if the employee has fully recovered after one year, and 5 C.F.R §353.301 which provides an overview of restoration rights for fully and partially recovered employees.
Part 7, Plan Development, provides guidance for the RC regarding the development of vocational rehabilitation plans from the DFEC-program perspective and includes information regarding the program's definition of suitable and available occupational goals. Further guidelines are provided for the identification and justification of such target jobs as well as the essential elements of the plan, the plan approval and/or alteration process, and expectations for required time-lines and RC professional hours.
Included in this part is an expanded discussion of the Labor Market Survey (LMS) as utilized within DFEC. While specific LMS methodology is left to the discretion of the RC, as the vocational expert, a variety of informational elements as outlined in this part are required by DFEC staff to confirm appropriateness of the rehabilitation plan and to complete necessary claims actions. New guidelines are provided to the RCs specific to the performance of LMSs in geographical areas of varying size (urban, rural, etc). In addition, new guidance is provided for the RCs as related to performing LMSs in several special circumstances – when researching part-time positions, jobs with sub-sedentary physical demands and/or jobs with physical demands different than those as described in the DOT. These expanded opportunities for rehabilitation services may facilitate additional job placement goals and return-to-work options that may not have been available previously.
Part 8, Placement – New Employer (PNE), provides information regarding the PNE process, general procedures, and the RC's role in facilitating the IW's return to work with a new employer. Information in this part includes: the roles and responsibilities of the RC and IW during placement; examples of specific job placement actions and expectations; professional hours and time-frame allotments; reporting requirements; intervention expectations subsequent to successful Placement and Post-Employment Services. Guidance is also provided regarding expected activities when placement has not occurred and for incidents of IW non-cooperation. Emphasis is placed on timely and cooperative action throughout the PNE process.
Part 9, Placement Tools and Hiring Incentives, details information related to DFEC-sponsored and/or supported programs or incentives which may assist in the job placement process. Currently, this part contains information pertaining to the Assisted Reemployment Program, an incentive program sponsored by DFEC with the goal of increasing employment opportunities for FECA injured workers through provision of a temporary wage subsidy to private sector employers. Included in this part is: information regarding the benefits of AR to employers and IWs; eligibility requirements; AR process and required documentation; reimbursement parameters and procedures for payment of subsidies.
Part 10, Vocational Rehabilitation Case Closure, addresses the closure of rehabilitation cases in a variety of circumstances. More specifically, this part details the procedures for case closure with and without an IW return to work and discusses the associated responsibilities of the RC, RS and CE in each situation. Required documentation is discussed as are situations in which updated LMS information may be needed in order to assist the CE with completion of a Loss of Wage Earning Capacity (LWEC) determination, as appropriate.
Part 11, Interruption and Non-Cooperation, provides guidance for the RC in addressing the possibilities of an interruption of the rehabilitation process and/or IW non-compliance.
Paragraph 1 of this part discusses reasons for the potential interruption in services, the RC's and RS's roles in addressing such and RC requirements for documentation and follow up.
Paragraph 2 of this part discusses the topic of IW non-cooperation with mandated rehabilitation services under the FECA, the possibility of associated sanctions, and the RC's role in working cooperatively with the IW, RS and CE to provide intervention as needed and directed. Examples are given regarding actions and behaviors which may constitute non-cooperation in various phases of the rehabilitation process. Emphasis is placed, however, both on the responsibility of the IW to treat rehabilitation as seriously as employment and the responsibility of DFEC staff to consider incidences of non-cooperation individually, including the IW's explanation and circumstances, prior to recommending sanctions. Instructions for RC follow up and required documentation are detailed.
Part 12, Communication and Documentation, provides for the RC information related to his/her communications with the RS, IW, CE and other stakeholders in the rehabilitation process, with a focus on the importance of maintaining open lines of communication and reporting case activities in a timely manner in order to facilitate effective services. Available modes of communication are discussed as well as examples of situations that require prompt RS or CE notification.
Progress reports are one of the RC's primary means to communicate information to DFEC staff and to document case activities and expenditures. As such, this part contains detailed descriptions of the specific elements required in the three types of reports (Initial Evaluation, Monthly Progress Report and Closure Report) as well as the program's expectations regarding timeframes for and mode of submission.
Sample reports are included, however, it should be noted that the most important focus of this section is the content and not the specific style of each report.
Part 13, Requirements and Procedures for Billing and Purchases, provides a description of and procedures for current RC billing activities and facilitating appropriate, timely reimbursement for services rendered. Specific reimbursement rates are not included.
Included in this part is an explanation of the types of services and items which may or may not be funded in the rehabilitation process, forms and procedures used in obtaining such services or items and information regarding ownership of items and maintenance requirements.
This part also briefly describes the Central Bill Processing (CBP) system, the requirements necessary for providers or vendors to ensure authorization and reimbursement for services rendered in relation to an OWCP case, and the actions the RC may engage in to facilitate prompt payment.
Part 14, Security of Case Information and the Privacy Act, provides reference to 5 U.S.C. 552a and 29 C.F.R. Part 71 – the Privacy Act of 1974 – as the regulatory authority providing for the protection of an injured worker's personal information. The RC working as a contractor of the OWCP is obligated to adhere to the provisions of the Privacy Act and the applicable regulations when rendering services in individual cases.
This part also addresses the issue of case file security and the RC's responsibilities in providing for and maintaining the secure status of an OWCP case file.
These components are also a condition of the signed MOA. The program recognizes the RC signature on a MOA as designation that s/he understands and agrees to abide by the terms of the Privacy Act and Security of Case Information as set forth in the MOA.
Transmittal of the DFEC RCHB, like the FECA Procedure Manual, is electronic in nature and material is published on DFEC's internet page.
Similar to how DFEC publishes and updates its Procedure Manual, DFEC will release and update this handbook in the same fashion. As changes and updates are made in the future, DFEC will update the material and provide a RCHB Transmittal outlining the change. Both will be visible via DFEC's internet page.
Distribution: All DFEC Staff and OWCP/DFEC Certified Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors