The Client Assistance Program assisted six individuals in South Dakota through Case Services this year. All of these cases were under Disability Rights South Dakota’s Employment Priority. The relevant Objective under this priority is 4.1.3 which states: [CAP will] Provide case services to applicants and clients of projects, programs, and facilities funded under the Rehabilitation Act who feel that they are not receiving the protections of the act or are not being afforded proper due process.
The first case involved a client who called CAP because she felt that when she called VR, they were rude to her and belittled her, they didn't help her with her issues, and they kept trying to give her menial jobs which were not within her area of expressed interest or aptitudes. She said that they were making some assumptions about her abilities but had not given her the testing needed to identify her aptitudes or to develop skills. The client’s qualifying disability involved some mental illness diagnoses. Manifestations of her conditions complicated some of the assistance that CAP was trying to provide. These same behaviors could reasonably inform some of the confrontational interactions which had occurred between the client and VR. It was up to CAP to find a way to constructively communicate to VR what the client was hoping to get out of VR assistance in terms of an employment outcome, guide the client through the various stages of IPE development, and to facilitate the process so that the client was provided with the opportunity to fully participate in the VR process. Job development supports were identified and provided by VR. The client had the opportunity to develop job skills, gain employment experience, and VR was able to use this experience to further develop supports needed to augment a successful employment outcome. Closures by the employer as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a gap in the development process. Though alternative services continued to be offered by VR, with the assistance of CAP, the client broke off all communication with both CAP and VR. CAP made efforts to re-establish contact between VR and the client, but these efforts were unanswered. Though the client decided to abandon the assistance available from VR and CAP, CAP was initially effective in facilitating services, process, and communication between the client and VR.
The second case was factually similar to the first. The client contacted CAP with complaints about VR not listening to her in respect to her expressed wishes and desires vis-a vis her preferred employment outcomes. She felt as though the efforts that she had been making with her VR counselor had resulted in a strained relationship between them. She wanted CAP to help her to re-establish a constructive relationship which would facilitate an employment outcome which was based on her expressed direction. CAP obtained a Release of Information from the client and used it to request, receive, and review the client’s VR records. After becoming familiar with the background of the case, CAP contacted the VR Counselor to discuss the client’s concerns. Though CAP was unable to coordinate a meeting between the client, VR, and the CAP advocate, we were provided with notice that communication had been reestablished between the client and VR counselor and that progress had resumed toward the client’s goals. Efforts to contact the client went unanswered. However, given that the client and the VR counselor were working toward the client's employment goal, CAP closed the case.
The third case involved a CAP client who had been a consumer of tribal VR services under a program outlined under §121 of the Rehabilitation Act. The individual had been a client of tribal VR services for the past several years. She reported that very little had been accomplished in the way of progress toward her employment goals. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were exceptionally acute on Native American lands in fiscal year 20. As a result, many of the programs and services were suspended to protect against transmissions among those populations. This made it impossible for CAP it initiate contact with VR or to advocate for appropriate supports. However, though the client is a member of a tribal nation and is eligible for services from that tribal VR program, she was also eligible for services provided by the designated state program in South Dakota. CAP got her in touch with her local State VR office and assisted her in applying for services there. Once the client was found to be eligible for services from the state program and there were no emergent or ongoing conflicts in that relationship, CAP closed the case. The client reported that she was satisfied with the supports available from the State provider.
In 2020, the COVID-19 crisis created widespread uncertainty for people with disabilities and providers alike. In the next case, a client called CAP and was interested in determining if VR was available, and if so, would it be able to help him to reach his employment goals. He reported that he received VR services years ago but felt that they did not provide him much benefit. Furthermore, he was concerned that VR was not assisting anyone during the pandemic. CAP assured the client that VR continues to provide employment services to people who qualify (albeit somewhat modified in some respects due to COVID). CAP supported this client through a Short-Term Assistance case by helping him to apply for VR services by providing him with contact information to his local VR office.
Sometimes an individual wishes to dispute a decision of VR and assert their due process rights, even when the factual basis of the appeal is not wholly favorable to that client. In the next case, a client had a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that he sustained in a car accident years earlier. He had struggled with substance abuse, mal-adaptive behavioral manifestations, and personality issues since his injury. He was seeking supports from VR to attend an in-patient treatment program that was specifically tailored to address issues related to and resulting from TBI. The client’s history created significant obstacles to convince VR to support this treatment. The client had previously attended this same program with VR support, but at that time he withdrew from the facility and waived further services. The program at that time provided benchmarks for him to meet should he wish to return – he had not met those expectations at the time of this case. Furthermore, the client’s substance abuse issues had reemerged and caused recent legal issues for him. Despite these challenges, the client felt that the TBI program was his best bet to obtain, maintain, and retain competitive integrated employment. CAP discussed the challenges in overcoming VR’s decision to deny supports for the program. The client understood that reversing this determination would be difficult, but wished to appeal the decision. CAP assisted the client through the Administrative Review portion of the appeals process. Though every available argument was made on behalf of the client, the appeal was unsuccessful. While the client did not prevail, he had the opportunity to avail himself of his due process rights. Furthermore, he had a clear idea of what he must do to put himself in a better position where he might one day be eligible for the VR supports that he seeks.
The final case involved a client who disagreed with a denial of services from VR. The client called CAP because he disagreed with VR’s denial of supports for medical care to alleviate some health issues which he felt would prevent him from continuing his employment. The client was a commercial truck driver – a position that he obtained through significant prior VR supports. He was gainfully employed. He did receive some accommodations from his employer and was not required to do some of the functions typically expected from someone in his field. Because his employment was seasonal, he worried that he may soon be laid off by his employer and be forced to seek employment elsewhere. He suspected that the need for similar accommodations would make finding a new job difficult. He wanted VR to pay for medical treatment which would address his underlying medical issues so that he no longer would need the accommodations. CAP recognized that this may be a difficult case to argue since the client was, in fact, already competitively employed. Nevertheless, CAP agreed to assist the client in an appeal at Administrative Review level. CAP argued that it is an appropriate role of VR to support a person with a disability in maintaining employment. While it was uncertain as to what, if any, procedures might be ameliorative in addressing his conditions, CAP argued that it was incumbent upon VR to support a medical assessment to ascertain what could be done. The results of this assessment could then be considered by VR in determining if additional supports would be necessary or appropriate. Though the decision that resulted from this process was ultimately adverse, it was important that the client was afforded the opportunity to assert this right when he felt strongly that VR's denial was erroneous. CAP elected to decline further representation beyond the Administrative Review level, but the client was advised of all relevant timeframes, due process options, or alternatives to pursue assistance from VR in obtaining other employment goals.