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9.1 What is Vocational Rehabilitation?

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Last amended 
16 December 2016

Vocational rehabilitation is the managed process that provides an appropriate level of assistance, based on assessed needs, necessary to achieve a meaningful and sustainable employment outcome.

The aim of a vocational rehabilitation program is to return a person to the workforce to at least the level of their pre-injury employment.

Broadly, services may include vocational assessment, guidance or counselling, functional capacity assessments, work experience, vocational training and job seeking assistance.  Whilst returning to paid employment may be the primary goal to work towards, other forms of 'employment' should not be ruled out as a successful vocational outcome.  Other forms of employment might include a work trial in a range of possible organisations where there is potential for employment. This type of employment can be beneficial whereby specific job skills can be learnt as a work readying option or as an outcome in its own right.

A vocational rehabilitation program can also include psychosocial rehabilitation and medical management rehabilitation activities as part of a whole of person approach to helping a person return to sustainable employment when the time is right.

Goal Attainment Scaling is mandatory when developing a whole-of-person plan that includes vocational rehabilitation. Please refer to chapter 15 of this library for more information about Goal Attainment Scaling.

Health benefits of good work

DVA's whole-of-person approach to vocational rehabilitation is underpinned by compelling evidence about the health benefits of good work. Good work is defined as work that is safe, enables the person to be productive and engaged and provides economic stability and personal interaction.

Research shows that long-term work absence and unemployment are harmful to physical and mental health and wellbeing. Moreover, the negative impacts of remaining away from work do not only affect the absent worker. Families, including the children of parents out of work, suffer consequences including poorer physical and mental health, decreased educational opportunities and reduced long term employment prospects.

Recent evidence on return to work rates indicate that the longer a person is absent from work, the harder it is for them to return to work. For example, people who are absent from employment for 20 days, have a 70% return to work rate. However, people who are absent from work for 70 days, have a 35% return to work rate. This reinforces the importance of employment as an early intervention approach to facilitating recovery after a service injury or disease.

This research indicates that good work:

  • helps to reduce the risk of depression;
  • promotes wellbeing and recovery from both physical and mental health injuries;
  • is an important part of the process of rehabilitation, and not just an end goal of rehabilitation;
  • leads to better short term and long term physical and mental health outcomes;
  • provides people with a valued and productive role which is recognised by their community and their family;
  • promotes long term financial security;
  • provides a sense of community and social inclusion;
  • gives structure to a person's life; and
  • increases physical activity and reduces engagement with risky behaviours such as excessive drinking.

Further information about the health benefits of good work can be found on the Royal Australian College of Physicians (RACP) website.

The DVA website includes a range of rehabilitation success stories, where veterans describe their rehabilitation experiences including their experiences of returning to work after injury.