State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies
The U.S. Department of Education, 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 DC receive funds calculated on a statutory formula mainly based on population and per capita income. Whereas, Tribes apply and compete for American Indian Vocational Rehabilitation Services (AIVRS) discretionary grants through a competitive process with funding for 5-years, with a Tribal match of ten percent.
In spite of differences in funding, number of eligible citizens, and geographic size, public VR and tribal AIVRS projects 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. Priority must be given to serving individuals with the most significant disabilities, if a State or AIVRS is unable to serve all eligible individuals.”
Statewide VR services are provided through state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies, which are integrated into the Workforce Development system of state government. State VR administrative headquarters are housed within a inkarger State Department, such as Education, Labor, or Health and Human Services, and are located in each state’s capitol city. Some State VR agencies serve people with all disabilities, while others divide services between two agencies, with one agency specializing in services to blind and low vision individuals (Blind VR services), and the other serving people with all other disabilities (General VR agencies). The head administrator for every State VR agency is the State Director of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Public VR in the United States is celebrating 100 years of history, legislation and service provision to people with disabilities. The system of public VR services was originally initiated to serve injured World War I veterans in 1916 and 1917, and continues today through a comprehensive and complex federal-state VR system. For more information about public VR, access the publications at the following links.History_and_Regulations-WWI-to-1979.pdf (44 downloads)
Legislation-Aspects-VR-In-US-1.pdf (43 downloads)
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. Regulations for Tribal AIVRS are found at the same website under Part 371 – 371.1 to 371.45.
Because tribes and states enjoy a government-to-government relationship, the status of the Director of an AIVRS Project is equal to that of State VR Directors, if the state has both a General and a Blind VR agency, any communication by the AIVRS Project Director will be with the State VR agencies and directors. To identify if a state has a General and Blind VR agency or only a General agency, and for the contact information for the current State VR Director(s), visit the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, (CSAVR) website and click on Resources – State VR Directors.
The Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR) is composed of the chief administrators of all public VR agencies serving states, the territories, and DC. As stated on their website,
These agencies 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.
Statewide VR services are delivered with oversight of the State VR Director through Regional Administrators, VR Managers, and VR Counselors who are located in District Offices throughout the state. Most of the ongoing cooperative projects, 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 shared or “joint” cases between State VR and AIVRS. As residents of the state, all tribal members may apply for services from State VR, whether or not they apply or receive services from AIVRS. To identify the closest VR District Office to the AIVRS project, contact the State VR Director, try social media, or search for map or listing of local VR offices on the State VR website.
State VR and AIVRS Partnerships
Many AIVRS Projects enjoy cooperative relationships with State VR, which are mutually beneficial to AIVRS project staff and consumers, as well as the State VR staff. Additionally, eligible Tribal Members may receive VR services simultaneously from both State VR and AIVRS projects. The collaboration between the AIVRS Counselor and the State VR Counselor in the provision of services to consumers utilizing a shared Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE), or dividing services through separate IPEs so each agency can provide a more extensive service base for consumers.
These shared relationships provide the consumer with additional services and resources, including the expertise of two VR Counselors and expanded funding for achieving IPE goals. Involving State VR is especially beneficial to the consumer when their disability or disabilities may be “complicated” and State VR resources provide additional expertise, or when the IPE goals may be financially expensive to achieve, and not possible with limited AIVRS funds.
State VR District Managers and VR Counselors are often members of AIVRS Advisory Committees and many times AIVRS Directors and VR Counselors are invited to serve on State VR Task Forces or special committees. Another important relationship with the AIVRS Director and the State VR Director is when they both serve on the State Rehabilitation Council (SRC), which is further described in the SRC section of the Toolkit.
State VR and AIVRS Memorandum of Understanding
A formalized partnership between State VR and the AIVRS project occurs when they mutually create a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) as required by 34 CFR 371.21(g). One component of the AIVRS Grant Application requests that the applicant tribe describe their relationship with State VR. Additionally, the Annual Performance Report requires the AIVRS Project Director to answer “yes” or “no” to whether they have an MOU in place with State VR, and then to rate this relationship, and to 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, State VR may invite AIVRS staff to participate in training opportunities such as: “The VR Process and IPE Development” or “Motivational Interviewing”. The AIVRS project may encourage State VR to participate in Native American cultural activities, such as Talking Circles or a Sweat Lodge, or a professional learning opportunity such as “The Impact of Historical Trauma” and “Generational Poverty”.
A critical component in the MOU is that tribes with AIVRS projects and the State VR agree to and include in the MOUs, a succession plan to ensure seamless continuation of VR services for AIVRS consumers with IPEs, in the event an AVIRS project were to lose grant funding. Due to the funding of AIVRS projects through a 5-year discretionary grant process, the possibility exists that an AIVRS project may not be funded by RSA during a future grant competition. Indeed, not having an existing AIVRS project’s grant application approved for funding in a grant competition has been the experience of a few tribes in the last several years. In these instances, tribes and their state’s VR agency have worked out cooperative arrangements for continuation of VR services, until the AIVRS project could reapply for funding in the next year’s grant competition. It is highly recommended that all AIVRS – State VR MOUs include a provision that in the event that the AIVRS is not funded, State VR will provide a continuation of services to AIVRS consumers to support their IPEs.
The defined geographic service area for some AIVRS projects covers tribal members across two or more states. In these instances the AIVRS Project Director must establish a separate MOU with each state. In other instances, there are two or more AVIRS projects in one state. When multiple AIVRS projects exist in one state, those project directors have often worked together and established one common MOU with their State VR agency. The tribal AIVRS project and the State VR agency mutually decide their best MOU option.
The AIVRS Project Director, needs to learn whether there is an existing MOU between their project and their State VR, and the current status of this agreement. If the MOU is current and relevant there is no need to redo the MOU, until the year of its expiration. If there is no existing MOU, or if the existing MOU is outdated, the AIVRS Project Director needs to contact the State VR Director, or Directors for states with a separate General and Blind VR agency, and make an appointment meet and discuss a new MOU.
To learn more about creating an MOU with your State VR, contact another AIVRS Project Director to discuss their approach, and request a copy of their current MOU. A list of AIVRS projects by state and contact information for each Project Director is included in the LINK. Also included are examples of AIVRS – State VR MOUs.AIVRS-Project-Contact-Information-Oct-2017.pdf (44 downloads)
MOU-Example-1-Wisconsin.pdf (42 downloads)
MOU-Example-2-Washington.pdf (43 downloads)
MOU-Example-3-Oklahoma.pdf (41 downloads)
Client Assistance Project (CAP)
The purpose of the Client Assistance Project (CAP) is to:
- Advise and inform applicants and consumers about services and benefits available to them through programs authorized under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended;
- Assist and advocate for applicants and consumers in their relationships with programs providing services under this Act; and
- Inform individuals with disabilities, especially those who have traditionally been underserved by VR programs, of the services available to them under the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.
CAP is funded by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). USDOE-OSERS-RSA is also the federal funding source for both State VR Agencies and AIVRS Projects.
AIVRS Projects are required to inform individuals who are seeking service or those receiving services and, as appropriate their family members, advocates or authorized representatives about the CAP. Specifically, these individuals need to be informed about the availability of CAP, the purposes of services provided under CAP, and how to contact CAP in their state. AIVRS Project Directors assure RSA, in a statement in their funded AIVRS grant, that applicants and consumers of their projects 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 at case closure. Informing can be accomplished by providing an individual with a CAP brochure (in accessible format) that offers a description of services and contact information.
CAP is an advocacy program for applicants and consumers of State VR and AIVRS projects. Examples of services are:
- 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
- Offers individualized advocacy services including assistance with administrative proceedings
The AIVRS Project Director needs to be knowledgeable about 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 the CAP is available on the State VR website, through social media and by contacting State or District VR offices. The AIVRS 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 in each state that are required for State VR agencies to be eligible for federal funding. Individuals serving on the SRC represent a broad range of disabilities and disability organizations. An SRC must have fifteen members, who represents specific disability groups, who are appointed for not more than two 3-year terms. Mandated SRC members include the Director of an AIVRS Project, if an AIVRS project exists in that state, and the Client Assistance Project (CAP) Director. The AIVRS and CAP directors are the only members who have no term limits. If there is more than one AIVRS project in a state, they can decide if their terms will be rotated among the directors.
The federally mandated functions of the SRC are to work in partnership with State VR agencies to:
- Review, analyze, and advise 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 State VR
- Develop, agree to, and review state goals and priorities
- 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 3 years
- Review and analyze the effectiveness of and the consumer satisfaction with VR services
- Examine employment outcomes achieved by eligible individuals, and
- 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.
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 (NCSRC) website provides more in depth information about the work of the many SRCs. NCSRC also sponsors an annual conference in conjunction with the CSAVR and NCSAB conferences.SRC-Orientation-generic-5-15-1.ppt (39 downloads)
Membership on the SRC provides many advantages for the AIVRS Project Director. The Director becomes very knowledgeable about 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 Project Director works side by side with the State VR Director(s) and other VR and disability leaders, thus forming strong working relationships that transcend SRC responsibilities. During the SRC Business Meetings, the AIVRS Project Director has equal status at the table with State VR Director and the opportunity to discuss the AIVRS Project. SRC membership affords many opportunities to increase awareness and advocate for American Indians with disabilities with statewide leaders. SRC membership provides an effective vehicle for promoting systems change.
36th IRI – State Rehabilitation Council 36IRIfinal.pdf (40 downloads)