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RSA-227 for FY-2021: Submission #1194

Vermont
09/30/2021
General Information
Designated Agency Identification
Vermont Client Assistance Program
57 North Main Street
Suite 2
Rutland
Vermont
05701
http://vtlegalaid.org
8027750021
8007697459
8007696459
Operating Agency (if different from Designated Agency)
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Additional Information
Nancy Breiden
Rachel Seelig
8023832217
rseelig@vtlegalaid.org
Part I. Non-case Services
A. Information and Referral Services (I&R)
69
42
0
78
28
95
312
B. Training Activities
4
184
CAP provided a Zoom training on “How to Respond When Clients Make Racist/Sexist/Transphobic Comments” for Vermont Legal Aid. The purpose of the training was to provide participants with strategies to respond when clients make offensive comments with a goal of heightening the awareness of the person making the statement that such comments are not OK and having them consider the impact of the comments. The training was provided through video presentation and included informal presentation, hypotheticals, and opportunity for open dialogue. There were 40 live participants in the training.

CAP provided a training for VR and Vermont Association for Business, Industry and Rehabilitation (VABIR) staff and managers on “What is CAP and the Role of CAP in the VR Process.” The purpose of the training was to help newly hired VR and VABIR staff understand the role of CAP in the VR process. The training was requested by a VR Field Services Manager and was sponsored by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. The training was provided by video presentation and included informal presentation and opportunity for questions and answers. Six newly hired VR and VABIR staff were trained.

CAP provided a Zoom training on “Work Search Requirements for Unemployment Compensation and People with Disabilities” for the Vermont Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). The purpose of the training was to inform DVR counselors of work search requirements and unemployment compensation during and emerging from the pandemic. The training was provided through video presentation and included informal presentation and opportunity for questions and answers. There were 128 participants.

CAP provided a training on “Disability Rights” for the Mentor in Training Program for EarthWalk Vermont Inc. The purpose of the training was to introduce EarthWalk mentors in training to the basics of disability rights and disability-based discrimination. Training was through informal live presentation. There were 10 participants.
C. Agency Outreach
CAP outreach in the reporting year was extremely limited due to the COVID pandemic. CAP worked with Rooted in Rights to adapt a brief video explaining the CAP and its services. The video is posted on the CAP website, used in VR orientation, and available through YouTube. CAP had its brochure translated into Swahili.
D. Information Disseminated To The Public By Your Agency
0
0
0
2
0
0
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E. Information Disseminated About Your Agency By External Media Coverage
There was no information disseminated about the agency by an external source.
Part II. Individual Case Services
A. Individuals served
11
9
20
2
10
B. Problem areas
6
11
11
5
0
0
1
2
C. Intervention Strategies for closed cases
5
0
0
7
0
0
12
D. Reasons for closing individuals' case files
2
4
0
1
1
2
0
0
2
0
0
0
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E. Results achieved for individuals
3
1
0
1
1
2
0
1
0
3
Decision reversed or a compromise -2
Client wanted new CAP advocate - 1
Part III. Program Data
A. Age
0
1
4
14
1
20
B. Gender
9
11
20
C. Race/ethnicity of Individuals Served
0
1
1
1
0
14
2
1
D. Primary disabling condition of individuals served
0
0
0
0
1
1
3
0
0
0
0
1
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
2
7
0
0
0
1
2
0
0
0
1
0
0
0
0
20
E. Types of Individuals Served
3
0
16
1
0
1
Part IV. Systemic Activities and Litigation
A. Non-Litigation Systemic Activities
3
a) Activity Undertaken: Administrative advocacy with the Division of Vocational rehabilitation (DVR) to change language of its Spending Guidelines document.
b) Policy or practice changed: SSI/SSDI beneficiaries are no longer asked to contribute to the cost of their VR services.
c) Manner in which this change benefitted individuals with disabilities: Individuals who are SSI/SSDI will no longer be asked to contribute to the cost of VR services.
d) Description: Several years ago, as previously reported, CAP pointed out to VR that it was prohibited from asking consumers who were SSI/SSDI beneficiaries to contribute to the cost of VR services. Agency administrators agreed with CAP that this practice was prohibited under the relevant regulation and agreed that it would not requires consumers who were also SSI/SSDI beneficiaries to contribute to the cost of services. The agency further agreed to develop a new chapter in the Policy and Procedures Manual to address this and other issues affecting VR consumers who are also SSI/SSDI beneficiaries. Nonetheless, CAP continued to see cases where individual VR counselors were informing consumers who were SSI/SSDI beneficiaries that they needed to contribute to the cost of VR services, despite directives from the central office that they were prohibited from doing so. CAP advocated with the state agency that the only way to stop this practice from happening was to have language making clear the prohibition be added to the spending guidelines document, pending development of the new SSI/SSDI chapter in the Policies and Procedures Manual. As a result of CAP advocacy, VR agreed to add the requested language to its funding guideline document and individual counselors are no longer mistakenly telling consumers who are SSI/SSDI beneficiaries that they are required to contribute to the cost of their VR services.

a) Activity Undertaken: Administrative advocacy with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to remove from its Policies and Procedures Manual. language setting absolute dollar limits on VR services .
b) Policy or practice changed: DVR may no longer set absolute dollar limits on specific service categories or total services provided.
c) Manner in which this change benefitted individuals with disabilities: Consumers of VR services will no longer be subject to absolute dollar limits on specific service categories or total services provided.
d) Description: CAP successfully advocated for the CAP to review all policies in the DVR Policies & Procedures Manual where funding is an element of the policy, and for CAP to add to those policies RSA conforming language, to include: that DVR may not place absolute dollar limits on specific service categories of service or total services provided; that DVR can set reasonable spending guidelines to ensure reasonable costs to the program, but those guidelines may not be so low as to deny an individual a necessary service; that when considering exceptions to spending guidelines, the DVR regional manager must consider i) the individual’s ability to contribute to their services; ii) that the individual’s contribution must be reasonable, based on the individual’s financial need, and not so high as to effectively deny the individual a necessary service.

a) Activity Undertaken: Administrative advocacy with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to remove from the Eligibility Chapter of the Policies and Procedures Manual, a provision that allowed DVR counselors to condition eligibility for VR services on a requirement that an individual with an active substance use disorder (SUD) participate in treatment or abstain from substance misuse.
b) Policy or practice changed: DVR counselors may no longer require that a consumer enter treatment or demonstrate a period of abstinence before receiving paid VR services.
c) Manner in which this change benefitted individuals with disabilities; This change benefits individuals with disabilities by ensuring that individuals with disabilities are able to access VR services and are only denied services where the severity of their disability, including SUD, renders them unable to benefit from VR services.
d) Description: CAP successfully argued that DVR cannot set conditions for eligibility and VR services that are not permissible under the WIOA. Further that if a VR counselor believes an individual can’t successfully participate in VR services due to the SUD, the appropriate course of action is to determine whether the individual is unable to benefit from VR services due to the severity of their disability (SUD) following the procedures set forth in 34 CFR § 361.42 (e). As a result of CAP advocacy, Vermont’s DVR policy is now in compliance with federal law.

In addition to these specific policy changes, CAP’s general administrative advocacy informs the thinking and decisions of policy makers and thus impacts the lives of Vermonters with disabilities. CAP engaged in non-specific systemic advocacy in 2021 through the following activities: CAP staff sits on the State Rehabilitation Council for Vocational Rehabilitation (SRC-VR) and chairs the Policy & Procedures subcommittee. CAP also sits on the Performance Review, Steering, and Advocacy, Outreach & Education subcommittees of the SRC-VR.

On the Policies and Procedures subcommittee CAP provided input and drafting assistance related to VR policies including revision and approval of audiology and hearing aids policy to reflect best practice and consistent VR procedures, and revision and approval of VR’s policy related to post-secondary education and training to bring Vermont’s policy into compliance with WIOA’s focus on multiple career pathways and higher wage employment, including access to shorter term credential attainment (apprenticeships, on-the-job-training, entry-level credentials, marketable skill acquisition) opportunities with lower time commitment and debt acquisition for consumers. On the Performance Review subcommittee CAP participated in conducting an extensive review of feedback from the triennial state-wide VR needs assessment and provided comment regarding data reflecting the unmet needs of consumers with mental health disabilities. On the Outreach & Education subcommittee CAP reviewed the results of the first youth consumer satisfaction survey since WIOA enactment.

In addition, through participation on these committees, CAP has raised for consideration and discussion the following issues in 2021: lack of services for individuals with a mental health diagnosis and how reallotment funds might be used to support wraparound services to increase the likelihood of success for these individuals; concerns regarding how DVR implements “customized employment” with its primary focus being on individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, when there is equal need in other disability categories such as TBI and mental illness; transportation as a barrier to employment; increasing diversity of membership on the SRC-VR. CAP also provided CAP's perspective related to Vermont’s $6.5 million RSA Career Advancement program grant focused on increasing supports and providing incentives for SSI/SSDI beneficiaries to return to work; and, provided CAP perspective related to the use of $5.3 million reallotment funds received by DVR.

CAP advocates have regularly scheduled quarterly meetings with the Director of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and two of her management staff. The purpose of these meetings is to discuss systemic concerns and issues and to maintain an open line of communication between CAP and VR. CAP staff serves as a governor appointed member of the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL) Advisory Board. The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation is a division within DAIL. The DAIL Advisory Board meets once a month and provides feedback on DAIL programs including VR to the DAIL commissioner. CAP staff also serves as governor appointed member of the Developmental Disabilities Services State Standing Committee. This committee meets monthly and provides input and feedback to the Director of the Developmental Services Division of DAIL, which, among other programs, funds and oversees supported employment for Vermonters with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

As reported last year, CAP initiated a review of the Vermont Center for Independent Living’s (VCIL) client policies. In the current reporting year, CAP drafted new proposed policies governing client appeals, appeals process, and a client rights handout, and provided them to VCIL for review. At the close of the reporting year, CAP and VCIL are engaged in discussion regarding the proposed policies.







B. Litigation
0
0
0
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Part V. Agency Information
A. Designated Agency
External-other nonprofit agency
Vermont Legal Aid, Inc.
No
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B. Staff Employed
Type of position FTE % of position filled Person years
Professional - FT 0.00 100% 0.00
Professional - PT 0.64 100% 0.64
Professional - Vacant
Clerical FT 309.61 100% 309.61
Clerical PT
Clerical - Vacant
Description: Vermont Legal Aid's CAP program had one .01 FTE attorneys, two 0.26 FTE paralegals, and 0.09 FTE project director staff for the entire fiscal year.

Part VI. Case Examples
Case Examples
CAP represented a 63 -year-old client with orthopedic and mental health disabilities. Client holds a PhD in business with a history of teaching at the higher education institutions. Client initially worked with VR and the Vermont Association of Business, Industry and Rehabilitation (VABIR) to get a job where his education and experience could be highlighted. These efforts were not successful. The client also experienced a loss of income and was ineligible for some CARES Act employment support. VR referred client to the CAP for assistance. Client’s goal was to start a business and he was seeking support from VR to do so. CAP provided the client with information about VR policies and procedures for supporting clients seeking to start their own business. The CAP also advocated with VR for client to be assigned a different VR counselor. The client’s proposed web-based business plan was approved and funding allocated. CAP supported the client in meetings with his new VR counselor and successfully advocated for the client to receive VR funding to take an online course focused on digital marketing. The client successfully completed the six e-courses on digital marketing, an important accomplishment for client’s fledgling business. One ongoing barrier was funding to help the client get his business moving forward. Current DVR funding allocated for self-employment may be insufficient, but client had not even accessed that limited funding. CAP did monthly videoconferences with client and his VR Counselor to brainstorm ways to overcome this barrier. CAP closed the case when the client decided that CAP involvement was no longer needed given that his plan was in place and that he was comfortable working with his new VR counselor.

CAP represented a 49-year-old client with multiple disabilities that affect daily stamina and function, including PTSD, Lupus, and Fibromyalgia. The Lupus and Fibromyalgia diagnoses leave client with limited ability to function on a day-to-day basis due to pain, fatigue, and stress. Client contacted the CAP because of problems with VR and Vermont Department of Labor (DOL) services and staff. Client’s PTSD that had been under control for many years was triggered by an instructor in a post-secondary education (PSE) class. Client went into crisis resulting in dropping of two classes. Client’s PTSD reactive symptoms were exacerbated by failures on the part of VR and the DOL to understand and accommodate client’s disabilities, follow client’s request for communication in writing versus phone, and follow through when they said they would do something. CAP intervened in several ways, specifically: CAP worked with the client and a health care provider to develop a written communication protocol to be followed by anyone working with client; CAP supported the client in a virtual conference with the VR regional manager who had contributed to the client’s re-traumatization; CAP provided client’s team with information explaining the impact of client’s multiple disabilities on her functional limitations and mental health; CAP worked with providers to identify the supports client would need upon return to PSE classes. As a result of CAP advocacy, the client’s proposed communication protocol was implemented; services and devices needed to support the client’s participation in PSE courses were added to her IPE; VR agreed to cover PSE tuition costs not covered by other sources; and client’s DOL case manager was changed to avoid re-traumatization by the previous case manager. However, client’s VR counselor, who was new in her job, began questioning the client’s employment goal, timelines, and other aspects of her plan despite the fact that all services had already been identified and approved. The counselor also wanted to add mental health counseling to client’s plan. Client advised the counselor that mental health services were already in place and need not be addressed by VR. The counselor disregarded the client directive and contacted the client’s mental health provider and questioned her about client’s “mental fitness” to attend PSE classes. She took this action without client’s knowledge or consent and disregarding client’s explicit directive to the contrary. As a result, client’s PTSD symptoms were exacerbated and client’s ability to trust VR was significantly impacted. With CAP support, client obtained a new VR counselor who is following the written communication protocol. CAP also successfully advocated that the client be given the opportunity to present her concerns about VR staff failures with the Director of VR directly in a meeting. In the meeting with the Director, among other things, the client shared the need for improved awareness of and training on PTSD, which the Director acknowledged and appreciated. With the change in counselor and compliance with the written communication protocol, client has excelled in her PSE classes. The assistive technology devices provided by VR through the client’s IPE have been very helpful to her. At the close of the reporting year, client learned of and was recommended for a part-time job as a social media editor for an international company. She has an interview scheduled early in the next reporting year. As a result of CAP advocacy, the client was able to get the support she needed from VR to succeed in her employment goals.
CAP represented a client with a psychiatric diagnosis who contacted CAP after receiving a notice that VR was planning to close her case. CAP provided counsel and advice as well as direct advocacy. CAP was effective in ensuring the maintenance of work supports during Covid which enabled our client to continue working part time. CAP’s advocacy also resulted in changes to VR’s policy on providing work supports during Covid. Additionally, CAP was effective in ensuring access to other ancillary services listed on client’s IEP including dentures and car repairs.

CAP represented a 56-year-old client with severe rheumatoid arthritis who was initially granted funding for a needed bathroom modifications through a home modification program administered by the Vermont Center for Independent Living (VCIL). The funding was subsequently withdrawn based on a stated requirement for a stair lift If the bathroom needing modification was on the second floor. CAP intervened and found no such requirement listed in the program policy. When CAP brought the situation to the attention of Executive and Deputy Directors of VCIL, the fact that a stay lift was not a requirement of the program was acknowledged and funding was granted without need for formal appeal. Client was able to achieve the bathroom modifications she needed.

Certification
Approved
Nancy Breiden
Vermont Legal Aid Disability Law Project Director
2021-12-14
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