University of Vermont

Cultivating Healthy Communities

Vocational Rehab Program Offers Help to Farmers in Irene's Aftermath

Burlington--When Tropical Storm Irene ripped through Vermont recently, she left in her wake flooded fields, destroyed crops and extensive damage to farm buildings and homes. For many farmers dealing with the aftermath, the storm also brought increased stress, anxiety and uncertainty about where to turn for help.

Rural and Agricultural VocRehab (RAVR) may be the answer. The program, a collaboration between University of Vermont (UVM) Extension and VocRehab Vermont, has provided services to farmers and rural residents for more than 40 years.

It offers health evaluation, counseling and assistance, including direct financial aid, to people with chronic illness or injury to help them secure employment or adapt their workplace to allow them to continue to work. Counselors also work with individuals overwhelmed by events that they have seen and experienced, providing guidance along with a compassionate ear.

RAVR staff are located in UVM Extension offices at three locations statewide. They can be reached in Rutland at (800) 281-6977, St. Albans at (800) 639-2130 and St. Johnsbury at (800) 545-8920. No fees are charged for any services or assistance.

According to Margaret Gilman, a RAVR counselor based in the Rutland office, during this current crisis, RAVR staff are available to touch base with farmers, listen to their concerns and offer professional input. All staff members are experienced in working with farmers and familiar with the types of health problems, stresses and injuries that may occur on farms.

"We also can refer them to other relevant agencies and organizations," Gilman says. "Or we can make arrangements to return at a more convenient time to offer services and provide long-term, ongoing assistance."

RAVR staff will make on-site farm visits to help assess damage and emerging issues and work with other agricultural professionals to develop comprehensive plans for recovery and sustainability. The program also assists farmers and rural citizens with chronic health conditions with worksite and home modifications; equipment adaptations and repair; work-related gear and vocational training.

"Most farmers do not typically call early in a situation," Gilman notes. "Instead they often wait and only call when they are frustrated after not finding help on their own for their ongoing health concerns, whether physical pain and limitations or added stress such as occurred with Irene.

"Farmers who do not seem to improve, can't follow through with their plans, always seem at "square one," and/or shut down and don't want to talk are the people most likely to be suffering from the negative effects of stress and anxiety. It makes sense to call on us for help."