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.

Employment difficult for injured construction worker

by MADISON RICE

Some of us talk about the time we broke our arm in the fifth grade, or maybe how we tore our ACL or MCL playing football or hiking. But would you be telling these glory stories if you knew John Holt?

Holt, 40, an action junkie, lives in West Valley City and has years of accidents and injuries under his construction belt. When he’s not doing a construction job, this single guy can be found snowboarding or wakeboarding — and doing anything else that gives him an adrenaline rush.

“I broke my first arm when I was 3,” Holt said. Since then, he’s been in more than a dozen car accidents and has even fallen off a roof during a job.

“I fell off a two-story roof with a ladder around my legs. I broke my wrist in two places, sheared the bone of my elbow off, broke a couple ribs, and sprained my ankles,” he said. “I’m starting to rethink if I am accident prone.”

However one might interpret these injuries, they have taken a toll on his body and are the very reason Holt can no longer find work in the job he loves. Contractors and construction businesses simply will not hire him because of his extensive injuries and dependence on medication.

“After being hurt so much, they want to know what your history is like and they find out about my medication and then they don’t want me. I’m highly skilled but my back is messed up,” he said. “I’m a fairly decent guy. I have talent. But I’m not young anymore and that makes it difficult.”

For the past eight years, Holt has gotten by doing construction work for friends and through referrals, but he realizes now more than ever that he cannot rely on an unsteady and unsure income. His medical bills alone are more than $400 a month. So Holt has begun the application process to go on disability, following advice from many of the doctors who have treated him.

“I have been avoiding it because it seems like giving up to me,” Holt said.
According to Matt Knotts, executive director of the Disability Law Center in Salt Lake City, the program will allow him to do everything but give up.

“The sense of giving up is common, but we approach this issue from the perspective that disability is a natural part of the human condition and in no way diminishes an individual’s ability to participate fully in their community,” Knotts said. “Utilizing the public benefits program is completely appropriate.”

Holt began his process with the Disability Law Center in early March 2009, after several months of debating what he would do. If Holt qualifies, he may receive financial help with medications and have back surgery, something he’s needed for a few years.

According to the most recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2007, of the 7.8 million U.S. construction workers, 5 percent reported a nonfatal occupational injury or illness. Of those reporting injury or illness, 62,100 had to transfer jobs. “If they were working in construction and they got hurt, that means they’re probably in a clerical occupation now,” said a BLS expert at the Injury Illness Office in Washington, D.C.

Aware that he may face occupational change in the future, Holt enrolled in a computer class. “I found myself in a computer class with no computer at home. That obviously didn’t work out,” he said.

So Holt met with the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation to use its Vocational Rehabilitation services. According to the Web site, the mission of Vocational Rehabilitation “is to assist and empower eligible individuals with disabilities to achieve and maintain meaningful employment.”

Once he is ready for work, Holt will meet with his counselor at the USOR to decide where he needs help. The USOR can give him job coaching, on-the-job training, or referral to an employment service.

“I took an aptitude test and they told me to be an engineer,” he said. “Vocational rehab can help me find a new career, but it’s difficult to jump from construction to what normal people do. There’s a difference in construction people and normal people.”

Holt still waits to hear from the Disability Law Center to see if the organization can help him receive the requested medical procedure for his back. Until then, the Primary Care Network helps him with medication costs.

“One of my prescriptions is $250 a month, and I only pay $5, so there’s a big difference,” he said. He works when jobs come his way and hopes to get his general contracting license and have his own business.

“The disability program will help me get back on my feet. I look at it as a platform to start from,” Holt said. “If I get on it I can jump off after I get my life back again.”

Victims of violence find refuge in county programs

by MADISON RICE

“I love being able to help people. I get to level the playing field,” said Stewart Ralphs, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake. Ralphs said his nonprofit agency is committed to ensuring the safety of victims of domestic violence in Salt Lake City by offering low-cost legal representation.

“It’s sometimes the first time that someone [has] stuck up for them and they get to have a fair deal. Someone to go to bat for them,” he said.

Founded in 1922, the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake is among 22 domestic violence coalitions across the state of Utah. The Legal Aid Society provides low-cost legal representation to low-income individuals in family law cases. It also works with the Multi-Cultural Legal Center, the Division of Child and Family Services, the Department of Workforce Services, the Salt Lake City Police Department and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). The Utah Domestic Violence Council provides resources, too.

Victims of domestic violence and abuse are encouraged by the Legal Aid Society to get immediate help at one of four locations, found on its Web site. But Ralphs admits the visit may take a while.

“It takes four to five hours to do that process if you are at the front of the line. You can’t go do this on a lunch hour,” Ralphs said.

However, the wait can be worth it. Persons seeking help are ensured a safe environment and are given the tools necessary to obtain a protective order or stalking injunction.

Protective orders are for people who are defined as cohabitants. “Cohabitants are currently or formerly married, related by blood, have a child together, or if they just live with someone else, like a roommate,” Ralphs said. “People who are not cohabitants can get a stalking injunction.”

Protective orders can last forever, while stalking injunctions last three years.

According to 50 responses received by the Legal Aid Society, 90 percent of protective orders are not violated.

“But we do know violations happen,” Ralphs said. “We tell all our clients: protective orders are very effective, but we will give them advice to keep them safe. Lock your doors at night, have an escape route in your house, have a suitcase packed and copies of important documents in case you have to flee on a moment’s notice.”

Women and children can find a safe haven at the YWCA in downtown Salt Lake City. It also provides safety plans for victims who arrive seeking help.

“We are a completely free, nonprofit agency,” said Lam Nguyen, director of Women’s Services and Diversity Services at the YWCA. “We provide crisis intervention and basic items and needs.”

The average length of stay at the YWCA’s Crisis Shelter is about 20 days, according to Nguyen. Groups for children are available while they are at the shelter. “We have an academic specialist that can do lessons with the kids. We have support groups to cope with what has happened and we have recreational programs,” Nguyen said.

The shelter is available to 75 women and children at one time and the program serves more than 500 women and children each year. The YWCA helps connect victims with the Legal Aid Society to file for a protective order. The YWCA will then check in with the victim weekly to see how she is doing and assess her goals.

The Legal Aid Society offers full legal representation throughout the process the victim is going through. “It is very important, we feel, to provide [for them] from start to finish so they are sure they are getting all the protections the law affords them,” Ralphs said. “There’s something really nice about doing whatever is necessary for someone. If it takes two months, great. If it takes five years, it doesn’t matter. I will do what’s necessary.”

For more domestic abuse help, call the Utah Domestic Violence Link Line at 1-800-897-LINK (5465) or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).