Baseline data revealed that 65% of the study sample of veterans with spinal cord injury (SCI) who were seeking employment had never been employed postinjury. Nearly half (41%) of this group had received some type of prior vocational rehabilitation. This rate is consistent with veterans with SCI reported for samples in the community of individuals with SCI.
This article compares evidence-based supported employment (SE) with conventional vocational rehabilitation for veterans with SCI. The researchers hypothesis was that evidence-based supported employment when compared with conventional vocational rehabilitation will significantly improve competitive employment outcomes. The secondary hypothesis was that evidence-based supported employment for veterans with SCI would be more cost-effective than standard care.
The study took place at multiple competitive employment sites versus standard vocational rehabilitation care at various Department of Veterans Affairs medical SCI centers.
Veterans with spinal cord injury consisting of 95% males with an average age of 48.3 years. More than half of the subjects were white, 35.3% African American, 5% Hispanic.
All subjects were followed for 12 months with face-to-face interviews every three months to collect data on primary employment variables and secondary outcomes measured. After this initial 12 months, the follow-up period was extended to 24 months at all sites including telephone interviews every three months. MANCOVAs were used to determine treatment group differences over time on the outcome variables (employment index, perceived barriers to employment, level of disability, quality of life, depression, and sustaining care needs), controlling for specified covariates. This included study site, sex, and age.
Competitive employment was as a primary outcome measure and measured every three months. Competitive employment is "community jobs that pay at least minimum wage (directly by the employer to the employee) that any person can apply for, including full-time and part-time jobs." General rehabilitation outcomes were measured at baseline and 3-month follow-up interviews. Standardized measures used included 1) Alcohol Use Disorders Identification test, 2)The Craig Handicap Assessment and Reporting Technique (CHART), 3) VR-36 that measures health-related quality of life in veterans, and 4) The Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology Self-Report.
Demographic variables were also collected such as age, sec, race/ethnicity, employment history, previous levels of income, educational background, legal history, lifetime employment history, vocational services history, duration of SCI, level of SCE, and type of family structure.
The Spinal Cord Injury Vocational Integration Program uses the principles of evidence-based supported employment. The program integrates vocational services into the SCI continuum of healthcare. The SE principles include 1) integrated treatment, 2) rapid engagement, 3)competitive employment, 4) belief that success is possible regardless of severity or type of disability, 5) ongoing support, 6) veteran preferences, 7) community-based services, and 8)personalized benefits counseling. The investigators spent 4 to 6 months recruiting and hiring staff to provide the evidence-based SE services. All vocational rehabilitation counselors (VRCs) have master's degrees and are certified rehabilitation counselors. Training consisted of 3-day workshop taught by VA faculty. VRCs received ongoing instruction and coaching by a co-investigator who has more than 30 years experience in vocational rehabilitation (VR).
The study design was a randomized clinical trial that consisted of an experimental group and a comparison group. Interventional-site subjects were randomized to either the experimental group or the comparison group. Observational sites were selected based on similarity to the intervention site facilities with regards to subjects, communities, and VAMC culture. The observational sites were included because the researchers were considered that veterans and staff at the four intervention sites might be vicariously influenced by veterans and staff involved with the implementation study.
The findings of this study were preliminary. The final enrollment count for the study was 301 subjects. At the time of this publication, 93 participants had reached study completion. Some of the challenges faced included exhausting the study pool earlier than expected, staff turnover, and slow process of culture change within the centers.
This article discussed the methods of an ongoing randomized clinical trial of VR approaches among veterans with SCI. Strengths of the study design include repeated measures to evaluate employment across time, inclusion of benefits-counseling, and ongoing fidelity monitoring of the treatment conditions. Before the study, the researchers concluded that there was a lack of attention to identifying or addressing vocational issues in the treatment setting. A culture change occurred such that providers began to introduce and explore the topic. In this study, the recruitment relied on clinical providers' willingness to broaden their definition of rehabilitation to include vocational issues. The preliminary baseline data from this sample showed that the majority (72%) had never been employed postinjury.