The number of people with disabilities, especially combat-related disabilities, is growing and a University of Iowa expert says there’s a critical shortage of vocational rehabilitation counselors to help them recover and re-enter the workforce. John Wadsworth, a U-of-I professor of rehabilitation and mental health counseling, says the Iowa City institution has just landed a large federal grant that will help meet the rising demand for this type of counselor.

“The grant primarily provides ongoing support to graduate students who may have difficulty paying for a graduate degree or may not be able to complete it in a timely manner without financial support,” Wadsworth says. “And then it requires them to work in public sector rehabilitation services for one year for every semester of support that they take.” The five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education is worth 730-thousand dollars.

“We have 26 master’s students, full and part-time, and we have another 15 doctoral students,” Wadsworth says. “The purpose of the grant is to help provide funding for those individuals so they don’t leave the university with debt.” He says there’s a well-documented and significant shortage of qualified counselors to meet the mental health and employment needs of people with disabilities, both civilian and military.

Wadsworth says the university’s students go on to work with state and federal vocational rehab departments, working with veterans and with people who have severe disabilities that are congenital or acquired through trauma. They also work in human resources departments and in insurance companies. Wherever they are, he says the goals are focused on helping people with disabilities become employed and to attain a higher quality of life. Wadsworth says it’s a growing career path and projections over the next six years show there’s going to be an increased need for this type of health care professional.

“The demand for rehabilitation counselors is quite strong in Iowa,” Wadsworth says. “It’s projected that there will be approximately a 24-percent increase in the number of jobs available, and that’s reflected nationwide.” He says job growth in the field nationwide is projected to be 19-percent. Wadsworth says the grant will help to strengthen an already-strong U-of-I program, which was recently ranked fourth among peer institutions by U.S. News & World Report.