Job outlook positive for injured, unemployed workers

by MADISON RICE

Finding a job in this economy can be tough for anyone. Fresh college graduates are considered lucky to get their foot in the right door, and there’s little telling what’s available for a person with a high school diploma. Even more unsure are those unemployed with a disability.

Fortunately, John Holt, 40, an injured construction worker from West Valley City, recently found a job working for a contractor. After applying for disability because of the lack of interest from employers, Holt landed a four-day-a-week job doing what he loves most.

But after a few days, things weren’t looking good for Holt.

“I was doing tile, and one day walking up a hill I heard a pop and a tearing noise in my calf,” Holt said. “It all swelled up and I can’t put weight on my toes and I can’t walk. I have to use a cane.”

And so this self-described action junkie is back on his quest. He wants help from the Disability Law Center.

“If they say no, I will appeal. But I haven’t gotten an answer back yet,” Holt said. “I should have went on disability a long time ago. The doctors knew what they were talking about.”

The doctors Holt sees are providers for Primary Care Network’s health care insurance program. “They accepted me right away for insurance. They will still help me with meds, which are about $400 a month. That’s basically my house payment, so it really helps,” Holt said. “Some prescriptions I only pay $25 for.”

Emma Chacon, a representative for PCN, said there is a significant population of adults like Holt who don’t have insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid. These people are welcomed at PCN.

“The Primary Care Network is essentially a waiver program under the larger Medicaid program to provide preventative care to individuals who do not qualify for Medicaid,” Chacon said. “We pay up to four prescriptions a month and life-and-limb emergencies. We don’t pay for in-patient hospital or specialty care.”

While Holt can get by paying for his pain medications with help from PCN, the PCN’s program cannot help him get the back surgery he needs.

“We don’t cover that, but we do have specialists that will go out and try to get donated services for recipients with significant issues,” Chacon said.

After receiving an MRI a few months ago, granted to him by Vocational Rehabilitation’s Client Assistance program, Holt knows he needs to see a doctor — not only to fix his back, but also to allow him to heal.

“The person I seen was a pharmacist at the pain clinic and he told me to see a physician next time about procedures,” he said. “But the visit will cost me extra and what I should do about the results will cost, too. If I do get disability insurance then I will definitely go to a physician and get a procedure done so I can go back to construction, where my knowledge is.”

Holt realizes that if his back surgery is unobtainable, he must change his occupation.

“I am still in the same position fighting injury after injury,” he said. “I need to do work that’s not so physical, and that’s the hardest part. My whole life, I’ve been outdoors doing a lot of things. But then again, I’ve been outdoors in car wrecks, getting hurt, playing games and getting hurt.”

So Holt has found himself back at the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation applying for Vocational Rehabilitation’s services. He will take the aptitude test again, as he has before, in the hope of finding the right job placement for him.

“It’s really fun,” Holt said. “They have you do a bunch of tests to figure out career choices you should make.”

According to the Web site, USOR’s mission is to help individuals with disabilities to obtain employment and increase their independence. Its most recent council report states that 21,997 individuals were provided with vocational rehabilitation services and 3,310 individuals with disabilities were successfully employed.

“I am a fairly decent artist,” Holt said. “But I’m 40 years old and there’s kids out there really confident on the computer and the programs they use. So I’m glad Vocational Rehab will pay for training.”

In fact, 64 percent of Vocational Rehabilitation’s expenditures go toward training individuals for jobs. Occupations include service occupations, sales and clerical work and industrial work. Holt will likely be placed in a clerical occupation based on his current abilities.

“I am not worried about the work. I am skilled with my hands and my mind. But to sit around every day with people that have nothing in common with me? It’s a change of lifestyle,” he said. “I don’t even know what regular people get paid and what a regular day is. What is the deal? Nine to five? What do you do for lunches? I mean, I don’t even know.”

More people are finding themselves in a situation similar to Holt’s. Whether unemployment comes as a result of injury or economic downsizing, finding a job can be difficult. However, the results can be fruitful for everyone. According to USOR, an estimated $16 million in annual taxes were paid by vocationally rehabilitated individuals last year.

Several organizations, like the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, the Department of Workforce Services for jobs and careers, and the Workers Compensation Fund are available to assist individuals seeking employment help.