Vocational Rehabilitation

Evidence for Federal Program's Effectiveness Is Mixed Gao ID: PEMD-93-19 August 27, 1993

The state-federal vocational rehabilitation program run by the Department of Education helps disabled persons become employed, become more independent, and be integrated into the community. This report discusses whom the program is serving and what the results are. GAO estimates the eligible population, contrasts those accepted and those not, describes the services that clients receive, and evaluates program outcomes. GAO found that only a small fraction of the millions of disabled Americans who are potentially eligible for state-federal rehabilitation services actually receive them and that rehabilitants' gains in employment and earnings fade substantially after about 2 years.

GAO found that: (1) 14 million to 18 million Americans are potentially eligible for VR due to work limitations; (2) 5 to 7 percent of the eligible disabled population are served by the VR program per year; (3) individuals with work disabilities tend to be older, less educated, and poorer than the general work-age population; (4) the predominant disabling conditions causing work limitations are musculoskeletal and cardiovascular impairments; (5) 65 percent of those served in 1988 had severe disabilities as compared to 69 percent of the eligible population; (6) successful VR applicants are generally similar to unsuccessful applicants, except that they tend to be more disabled; (7) VR applicants generally reflect the eligible population and tended to be young, male, and less likely to have orthopedic or chronic health problems; (8) most VR clients receive diagnostic, evaluation, counseling, and guidance services, some clients receive skill-enhancing training and education services, and few receive services targeted to their specific disability; (9) VR services vary according to individual disabilities; (10) rehabilitated clients are more successful than unrehabilitated clients and dropouts in the long-term; and (11) unrehabilitated clients and dropouts tend to be employed below preprogram levels within the first 2 years after the program and have similar long-term economic outcomes.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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