When injured on the job, or in a car wreck, sometimes injured folks are not able to return to their past work, because it is too heavy or otherwise too physically demanding. Sometimes folks have permanent impairment from a work injury, occupational disease, or other injury, that makes many kinds of work no longer something they can do or sustain. When the past work or trade was skilled and high paying, and the person cannot go back, it can be devastating the injured person and their family. Retraining can help many of these folks obtain skills that will help them make as much or more in a new field, to enter a career that pays as well or more than past work, and has better long term prospects with less risk of injury. This challenge is something many folks are not prepared to face, and need guidance. Also, advanced education is not as accessible or as affordable as it could be. With the impending slow down of high paying jobs in the Baaken oil patch in eastern Montana and western North Dakota, the value of job skills and training are likely to be as important as ever.
The production in North Dakota and eastern Montana continues, but the sector is vulnerable. Much of the industry is working hard to keep the production going in the Bakken and the jobs alive:
Many Montana residents have been injured in motor vehicle wrecks, truck wrecks, and industrial accidents and injuries in the Bakken, both in Montana and North Dakota. Many Montana residents have been injured in North Dakota while working for Montana employers, covered by Montana workers’ compensation coverage. These injuries often take the worker out of high paying work. If they cannot go back to the oil fields and those high paying jobs, the question becomes, what is next? Education and training are often the best answer.
However, of the expenses a family incurs that have risen far more than the cost of inflation – higher education and medical expenses have been prominent. Over the past 20 years, the costs of college education, especially at private universities, and health care, have been increasing so fast that they have frequently been in the news. When someone suffers a significant injury in a car accident, regardless of the settlement, the insurance company does not provide or recommend a vocational counselor, or give career and rehabilitation planning advice. They don’t have an interest in the rehabilitation of the injured person, or have the links and roots in the community to vocational and educational resources. This is one of the many ways a local personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm can be of assistance to the innocent victim of someone else’s negligence. At Bliven Law Firm, P.C., we a Kalispell, Montana injury law firm, that represents injured folks against the insurance companies and their lawyers. We are Montana personal injury and accident attorneys that represent the injured, every day of the week, not the insurance companies – not ever.
We represent injured workers in workers’ compensation claims, not employers or insurers – not ever.
In Montana workers’s compensation claims, vocational retraining is sometimes offered by the workers’ compensation carrier – and often not offered at all – as one has to prove a significant amount of disability and a “handicap to employment” under the statute, MCA 39-71-1006. Rehabilitation benefits.
“(1) A worker is eligible for rehabilitation benefits if:
(a) (i) the worker meets the definition of a disabled worker as provided in 39-71-1011; or
(ii) the worker has, as a result of the work-related injury, a whole person impairment rating of 15% or greater, as established by objective medical findings, and has no actual wage loss;
(b) a rehabilitation provider, as designated by the insurer, certifies that the worker has reasonable vocational goals and reasonable reemployment opportunity. If eligible because of an impairment rating of 15% or more, with rehabilitation the worker will have a reasonable increase in the worker’s wage compared to the wage that the worker received at the time of injury. If eligible because of a wage loss, the worker will have a reasonable reduction in the worker’s actual wage loss with rehabilitation.
(c) a rehabilitation plan is agreed upon by the worker and the insurer and a written copy of the plan is provided to the worker. The plan must take into consideration the worker’s age, education, training, work history, residual physical capacities, and vocational interests. The plan must specify a beginning date and a completion date. The plan must specify the cost of tuition, fees, books, and other reasonable and necessary retraining expenses required to complete the plan.”
In our experience, when a plan is offered by the insurer and their vocational counselor, it is often a minimal plan, designed as much (or more) to minimize the cost to the insurer as it is to assist the injured worker. The vocational and rehabilitation counselor the insurer chooses – as the insurer gets generally to choose under Montana law – has the difficult task of developing a plan that will assist the worker get into another job within the worker’s capacities, but also a plan the claims adjuster that hired them will approve. Therefore, even when retraining is offered by the insurer, the program or benefits are too often do not fully take advantage of the remedies available under Montana law – or as helpful as they could be. It often requires a committed and knowledgeable injured workers’ attorney to seek and retain a vocational rehabilitation specialist to evaluate the injured worker’s limitations and a develop a suitable retraining program. At Bliven Law Firm, P.C., we find it often necessary to consult or retain an independent vocational rehabilitation specialist to evaluate and develop the plan the insurer retained vocational counselor should do. Often, that program involves a proposal for retraining at our local community college, or another program in Montana.
Under Montana law, when an worker has a compensable on the job injury or disease, and they suffer a wage loss as, they can qualify for up to 104 weeks of training.
“(2) A disabled worker is entitled to receive biweekly rehabilitation benefits at the worker’s temporary total disability rate. The benefits must be paid for the period specified in the rehabilitation plan, not to exceed 104 weeks. The rehabilitation plan must be completed within 26 weeks of the completion date specified in the plan. Rehabilitation benefits must be paid biweekly while the worker is satisfactorily progressing in the agreed-upon rehabilitation plan. Rehabilitation benefits payable pursuant to a retraining rehabilitation plan under this section are not payable in a lump sum. Rehabilitation benefits may be paid in a lump sum for job placement services.
(3) In addition to rehabilitation benefits payable under subsection (2), a disabled worker who was injured on or after July 1, 1997, is entitled to receive payment for tuition, fees, books, and other reasonable and necessary retraining expenses, excluding travel and living expenses paid pursuant to the provisions of 39-71-1025, as set forth in department rules and as specified in the rehabilitation plan. Expenses must be paid directly by the insurer.
(4) A worker may not receive temporary total benefits and the benefits under subsection (2) during the same period of time.
(5) A rehabilitation provider authorized by the insurer shall continue to assist the injured worker until the rehabilitation plan is completed.
(6) To be eligible for benefits under this section, a worker is required to begin the rehabilitation plan within 78 weeks of reaching maximum medical healing.
(7) A worker may not receive both wages and rehabilitation benefits without the written consent of the insurer. A worker who receives both wages and rehabilitation benefits without written consent of the insurer is guilty of theft and may be prosecuted under 45-6-301.”
Qualifying is difficult, and getting real vocational assistance is a challenge. Unfortunately, many injured workers are not aware of the potential for vocational rehabilitation, and insurers and the vocational experts they hire do not make such programs available. Likewise, absent advice, someone recovering from injuries in a car wreck may not see the opportunity to go back to school and use this setback as an opportunity to obtain education and skills that will benefit them for the rest of their work life. Another critical factors is that college education remains affordable and accessible at FVCC and similar institutions. http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/20/living/ivory-tower-community-colleges/
We are fortunate in the Flathead Valley to have an excellent college in Flathead Valley Community College, providing excellent educational opportunities at costs far below even public universities, and our college has many professional training programs, as well as the occupational trades. http://www.fvcc.edu/academics/academic-programs.html
Given the pull of the Bakken oil field in eastern Montana and western North Dakota as a source of high paying entry level work, and the improved economy, the enrollment at the college has gone down recently over what it was at the height of the recession. However, given the crash in the price of crude oil per barrel in the past few months, that situation may be changing. As of December 28, 2014, prices had fallen to $54 per barrel, which makes much of the recent oil development in the United State and Alberta. The high paying entry level jobs driving employment in our region may be slowing – or grinding to a halt in the near future.
The challenges to full enrollment at many of the universities and colleges in the region may be coming to end, as the employment situation may be changing very soon. When looking at long term employment in high paying skilled work, education will always be a good investment, especially for younger workers. However, even non-traditional students and those who have been in the work force for 20 years often find returning to college and updating their occupational skills, or even learning a whole new trade or professional skill to be a worthwhile investment that pays many fold over the years in increased earning capacity.
One of the most successful and prominent parts of FVCC has been its growth in the health sciences and allied health professions, bolstered by the completion of the new Broussard Center for Nursing and Health Sciences. http://www.fvcc.edu/2014/10/fvccs-night-broussard-center-showcase-health-care-career-options/
The college has many other technical and science fields, as well as trades. Many local employers partner with the college to hire graduates of these programs.
When resolving an injury case, or workers’ compensation case, we counsel clients to consider taking the “lemons” given to them by the injury – including the disruption to employment and their physical capacities – and considering “making lemonade.” This can be an opportunity to go back to college, or go to college for the first time, and gain valuable skills and certifications for work in a field with long term and steady employment prospects, including the health sciences and skilled trades.
Flathead Valley Community College has degree programs – that can be completed in two years (104 weeks) or less – in many areas that prepare graduates for careers in fields where they can earn a living wage, and many of these careers are in the health sciences, such as nursing, surgical technician, physical therapy assistant. Other fields, such as the occupational trades, Department of Transportation (DOT) commercial drivers license and hazardous materials handling (HAZMAT). While the times change, so do the programs, as regional community colleges are usually more responsive to changes in economic conditions and employer needs for skilled workers than many four year colleges.At Bliven Law Firm, P.C., we do more than just get the case resolved. We believe getting the medical bills and lost wages addressed, and obtaining fair settlements for our clients is not all we are about. In the course of our representation, we seek to provide clients with advice to assist them get not just appropriate treatment, but also vocational and other resources so that they can better their lives and recover as much as possible from the injury. We respect our clients to make their own decisions about how to recover and proceed, but we do offer guidance and advice to assist them in these and related areas, as we not just attorneys at law, but also counselors at law. We often refer clients to vocational and educational resources so as well to assist them in the transition and recovery process. We are willing to advance costs for such evaluations, when appropriate, for vocational and other evaluations so that we can fully advocate for our clients and their needs. This is part of the dedication to our clients.
When choosing a law firm to assist you after a work injury or car wreck, or other injury (or a disability claim), one of the many considerations is whether or not the firm represents insurance companies and employers most of the time, but then takes cases from the injured person when it happens to not be from one the the insurance companies or employers where they get most of their work. In short, they play for either or any team as opportunity presents itself, like some of the law firms in our area that advertise on the internet, or the phone book for injury cases. Can such a law firm really dedicate themselves fully and wholeheartedly to working for you, when they work of the insurance companies and the “bad guys” most of the time? Is their heart really in it when they take a case for an injured person, when in fact they are really defense trial lawyers who spend most of their time defending wrong doers, insurance companies and trying to defeat fair compensation to the injured, sick and disabled? At Bliven Law Firm, P.C., we are Montana Trial Lawyers (MTLA), members of the American Association of Justice (AAJ), and the National Organization of Social Security Claimant’s Representatives (NOSSCR), who have dedicated our adult work lives to representing and helping the injured, sick, and disabled. Whether you retain our firm or not, we recommend that you seek help from a law firm dedicated to fighting every day for the injured – not the insurance companies, large self-insured employers, and their friends.
We believe that a team of lawyers and staff committed to representing the injured, sick and disabled, with experience in these complimentary areas of law – and working with medical and rehabilitation professionals to assist us and our clients, provides our clients with the best possible representation and assistance. This has been our commitment, and will continue to be at Bliven Law Firm, P.C.