State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies
The Department of Education (ED), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), is the federal agency that provides grant funding to assist states, the territories, and the District of Columbia (DC) in providing public Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services to eligible citizens with disabilities in their geographic area. States, territories, and the District of Columbia receive funds calculated through a statutory formula based on population and per capita income. American Indian Tribes (as described in Section VII of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended) located on federal and state reservations apply for American Indian Vocational Rehabilitation Services (AIVRS) discretionary grants through a competitive process with funding for five years.
Public VR and tribal AIVRS programs share the same overarching goal:
The Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Program is designed to provide VR services for individuals with disabilities, consistent with their strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities, interests, and informed choice, so that they may prepare for and engage in competitive integrated employment and achieve economic self-sufficiency. Eligible individuals are those who have a physical or mental impairment that results in a substantial impediment to employment, who can benefit from VR services for employment, and who require VR services.
If a state VR agency or AIVRS program is unable to serve all eligible individuals, priority must be given to serving individuals with the most significant disabilities. AIVRS programs provide VR services specifically to American Indians with disabilities who live on or near a reservation.
Statewide VR services are provided through state VR agencies, which are integrated into the Workforce Development system of state government. State VR administrative headquarters are housed within a larger state department, such as Education, Labor, or Health and Human Services, and are located in each state’s capitol city. The Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) is the “Designated State Unit (DSU)” responsible for the administration of the VR Grant program within a state. The DOR provides VR services to the citizens of their state under the terms and conditions of the approved VR State Plan. Each state chooses how VR services are delivered; therefore, a state may have one division of Combined VR Services and provide VR services to individuals with diversified disabilities. Other states may have adopted a two division model, General and Blind and Visually Impaired Division within the DOR that administers the Federal Title VII Chapter 2 grants for services to the elderly blind (website: Department of Rehabilitation – Specialized Services – Blind & Visually Impaired Services). To find the listing for each state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and a state Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired please visit CSAVR – State Agencies.
To learn about regulations for state VR services access, review the electronic Code of Federal Regulations at e-CFR Title 34 Education – Subtitle B Regulations of the Offices of the Department of Education – Chapter III – Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Department of Education Part 361 – 361.1 to 361.900
The Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR) is a professional organization composed of the chief administrators of all public VR agencies serving states, territories, and DC as stated on their website, Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR):
All public VR agencies serving the state constitute the state partners in the state-federal program provided under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended…
Another good VR resource is the website for the National Council for State Administrators for the Blind (NCSAB). Many state VR Directors are members of both councils, CSAVR and NCSAB. The CSAVR and NCSAB websites are great resources for a variety of relevant VR information – National Council of State Agencies for the Blind (NCSAB)
State VR and American Indian VR Services Partnerships
Statewide VR services, located in district offices throughout the state, are delivered under the supervision of the state VR Director through Regional Administrators, VR Managers, and VR Counselors. Most of the ongoing cooperative programs, and the delivery of state VR services to eligible tribal members, are with the local VR district office staff. Tribal members with disabilities may be served through joint cases between the AIVRS and the state VR or independently through either organization, the tribal or state VR. To identify the closest VR district office to an AIVRS program, contact the state VR Director, use social media, or search for map or listing of local VR offices on the state VR website.
AIVRS programs strive to have a cooperative relationship with their state VR agency where a commitment between organizations is established through a Cooperative Agreement, often termed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Eligible tribal members may receive VR services simultaneously from both the AIVRS program and the state VR. The collaboration between an AIVRS Counselor and a state VR Counselor in the provision of services to consumers may utilize a shared Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) or a coordination of services through an agreed services plan in separate organizational IPEs.
The shared relationships between agencies provide AIVRS consumers with additional services and resources, including the expertise of two VR Counselors, AIVRS and the state, and expanded funding for achieving IPE goals. Involving the state VR in an AIVRS consumer case is especially beneficial to the consumer when: a) a disability or disabilities may be complex, whereby the state VR Counselors can provide additional expertise or b) when the consumer’s IPE goals may be financially limited with AIVRS funds.
State VR and AIVRS Memorandum of Understanding
A formalized partnership between state VR and the AIVRS program occurs when a joint Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is developed, as required by 34 CFR 371.21(g). One component of the AIVRS Grant Application requires the applicant tribe to describe their relationship with the state VR. Additionally, the Annual Performance Report (APR) requires the AIVRS Program Director to: a) answer “yes” or “no” to whether they have an MOU in place with the state VR, b) rate this relationship, and c) provide a narrative description of their interaction with state VR during that fiscal year.
Components of the MOU generally outline specific activities, such as sharing of policies and cooperative professional learning opportunities. For example, the state VR may invite AIVRS staff to participate in training opportunities, such as “The VR Process and IPE Development” or “Motivational Interviewing.” The AIVRS program may encourage the state VR to participate in American Indian cultural activities, such as “Talking Circles,” a “Sweat Lodge,” or a professional learning opportunity such as “The Impact of Historical Trauma” and “Generational Poverty” on American Indian people.
A critical component in the MOU between AIVRS and the state VR is a succession plan to ensure seamless and continuous VR services for the AIVRS consumers with IPEs. This plan is vital because an AVIRS program could lose grant funding at the end of a five-year discretionary grant.
The defined geographic service area for some AIVRS programs may cover tribal members across two or more states. In these instances, the AIVRS Program Director must establish a separate MOU with each state VR agency. In other instances, there may be two or more AVIRS programs in one state. When multiple AIVRS programs exist in one state, Program Directors have often worked together, establishing one common MOU with their state VR agency.
A new AIVRS Program Director should determine whether or not there is an existing MOU between their program and their state VR and, if so, the status of the agreement. If the MOU is current and relevant, there is no need to re-work the MOU until the year of its expiration. If there is no existing MOU, or if the existing MOU is outdated, the AIVRS Program Director may want to contact the state VR Director (or Directors for states with a separate Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind VR agencies) to make an appointment to discuss a new MOU.
To learn more about creating an MOU with your state VR, contact other AIVRS Program Directors to discuss their approach, and request a copy of their current MOU. AIVRS programs by state and contact information for each Program Director is listed in the following link AIVRS-Project-Contact-Information-Oct-2017.pdf (191 downloads) .
Although MOUs are dated and become outdated, the sample MOUs below may provide some insight into structure, language, composition, and effective collaborative methods between agencies.
Oneida Tribe VR Program and State of Wisconsin VR Agency MOU-Example-1-Wisconsin.pdf (180 downloads)
AIVRS Programs and State of Washington VR Agency and Department of Services for the Blind MOU-Example-2-Washington.pdf (178 downloads)
AIVRS Programs and the State of Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services MOU-Example-3-Oklahoma.pdf (174 downloads)
Client Assistance Project (CAP)
The purpose of the Client Assistance Program (CAP) is to:
- Counsel and inform applicants and consumers about vocational rehabilitation services and benefits that are available to them through programs authorized under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended;
- Assist and advocate for applicants and consumers of vocational rehabilitation services in their relationships with programs providing services under the Act; and
- Inform individuals with disabilities, especially those who have traditionally been unserved and underserved by vocational rehabilitation, of the services available to them under the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.
CAP is funded by the Department of Education (ED), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). ED-OSERS-RSA is also the federal funding source for both state VR agencies and AIVRS programs.
AIVRS programs are required to inform individuals seeking or receiving services and, as appropriate, their family members, advocates, or authorized representatives about the Client Assistant Program (CAP). Specifically, these individuals should be informed of the availability of CAP, the purposes of services provided under CAP, and how to contact CAP in their state. AIVRS Program Directors provides assurance to RSA, in a statement in their funded AIVRS grant, that applicants and consumers of their programs are informed about CAP services and how to contact CAP at key points in the VR process. Key points include application, IPE development, IPE amendments, and case closure. Providing an individual with a CAP brochure (in an accessible format) that offers a description of services and contact information is an acceptable way to inform applicants and consumers about CAP.
CAP is an advocacy program for applicants and consumers of state VR and AIVRS programs. Examples of services offered by CAP include:
- Provides information about VR programs;
- Explains rights and responsibilities of applicants and consumers;
- Works to solve problems with VR services through negotiation;
- Offers information about the Americans with Disability Act (ADA);
- Teaches self-advocacy; and
- Offers individualized advocacy services including assistance with administrative proceedings.
The AIVRS Program Director needs to be knowledgeable about the CAP in their state. Learning about CAP services, location of offices, and meeting CAP staff can be accomplished by talking with the CAP Director. Contact information about CAP is available on the state VR website, through social media, and by contacting state or district VR offices. The AIVRS Program Director and the CAP Director are both mandated members of the State Rehabilitation Council.
State Rehabilitation Councils
The State Rehabilitation Councils (SRC) are governor appointed boards of volunteers. Every state is required to have a SRC to receive federal funding for their VR agencies. Individuals serving on the SRC represent a broad range of disabilities and organizations that serve individuals with disabilities. A SRC must have fifteen members, representing specific disability groups, appointed for not more than two three-year terms. Mandated SRC members include the AIVRS Program Director, if an AIVRS program exists in that state, and the Client Assistance Program (CAP) Director. The AIVRS and CAP Directors are the only members who have no term limits. If there is more than one AIVRS program in a state, the Program Directors decide how their terms will be rotated.
The federally mandated functions of the SRC are to work in partnership with state VR agencies:
- To review, analyze, and provide counsel regarding responsibilities under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (the Act), particularly related to;
- Eligibility and order of selection;
- Extent, scope, and effectiveness of services;
- Functions affecting individual achievement of employment outcomes; and
- Applications, reports, and evaluations.
- In partnership with the state VR:
- Develop, agree to, and review state goals and priorities; and
- Evaluate effectiveness of VR programs and submit progress reports to the RSA Commissioner.
- Advise and assist in the preparation of the State Plan portion of the Unified State Plan and Amendments.
- Review applications, reports, needs assessments, and evaluations.
- Participate in the Comprehensive Statewide Needs Assessment every three years.
- Review and analyze the effectiveness of the consumer satisfaction with VR services.
- Examine employment outcomes achieved by eligible individuals.
- Prepare an Annual Report on the state’s VR program status and submit the report to the Governor and the RSA Commissioner.
The SRC accomplishes these mandates through regularly scheduled meetings and designated work groups.
Membership on the SRC provides many advantages for the AIVRS Program Director. The Program Director becomes knowledgeable on the larger VR systems across the state and learns about possible services, or adaptation of services, that may be beneficial to tribal members and AIVRS consumers. Additionally, the AIVRS Program Director works side by side with the state VR Director(s) and other leaders in the field of VR disability, thus forming strong working relationships that transcend SRC responsibilities. During the SRC business meetings, the AIVRS Program Director has equal status at the table with a state VR Director and has the opportunity to discuss the AIVRS programs in the state. SRC membership affords many opportunities to increase awareness and advocate for American Indians with disabilities with statewide leaders. SRC membership also provides an effective vehicle for promoting systems change.
SRCs from across the United States have formed a national organization to meet their many professional learning needs. The National Coalition of State Rehabilitation Council’s website provides more in depth information about the work of the many SRCs. The NCSRC also sponsors an annual conference in conjunction with the CSAVR and NCSAB conferences.
State VR District Managers and VR Counselors are often members of AIVRS Advisory Committees ( Creating-an-AIVRS-Advisory-Committee.pdf (112 downloads) ) and many times AIVRS Directors and VR Counselors are invited to serve on State VR Task Forces or special committees.