Why Do I Have a Vocational Expert At My Disability Hearing?

You have a disability hearing scheduled and the judge has requested a vocational expert be present. You may be wondering who this vocational expert is and what they will do. Judges have the option of requesting a vocational expert to assist them in making a determination in your claim, and quite often they do so. The vocational expert tends to be very important to the hearing. Oftentimes this expert can make or break your case.

A vocational expert is an expert witness called to testify at your disability hearing. This expert is an authority on vocational rehabilitation, vocational and earning capacity, lost earnings, cost of replacement labor and lost ability/time in performing household services. Social Security judges mainly call a vocational expert to testify regarding vocational rehabilitation. This is because if you do not meet a disability listing, then the Social Security Administration (SSA) must determine whether you can do your past work. If not, then they will consider whether there are any other types of jobs you can do in the national economy. This is all evaluated by taking into consideration your functional limitations, both physical and psychological.

At the hearing, the judge will pose a question to the vocational expert using a hypothetical individual’s age, education, and limitations. This individual is meant to mirror your situation, without making it specific to you. Once the judge describes the hypothetical individual, the expert will then testify as to whether someone with this vocational profile could perform the past work listed. If the hypothetical individual would not be able to perform the past relevant work then the vocational expert will consider whether there are any other jobs the individual can do.

This is the point in the hearing when your attorney will have an opportunity to question the vocational expert. Your attorney will try to rule out the proffered jobs by including limitations that the judge left out of the hypothetical. The goal is to try to get the vocational expert to say there are no jobs that you can do.

Here is an example of a typical vocational expert’s testimony:

Administrative Law Judge: Assume an individual has the same age, education and work experience as the claimant. Further, assume that this individual is limited to unskilled sedentary work with occasional postural limitations; is able to sit for 45 minutes at a time with 1-2 minute changes in position; and is precluded from production or pace type of work. Is this individual able to perform their past relevant work?

Vocational Expert: No, they cannot do their past work.

Administrative Law Judge: Are there other jobs this hypothetical individual could do?

Vocational Expert: Yes, they can do general production jobs, packing jobs and bench assembly jobs.

[Administrative Law Judge then gives the attorney an opportunity to question the vocational expert]

Attorney: Assume the same hypothetical individual but also assume the individual would be absent approximately 2 days per month and would be off-task approximately 10% of the workday. Would this individual be able to perform those jobs you outlined?

Vocational Expert: No, this type of individual would be unemployable with those characteristics.

Every administrative law judge, vocational expert, and hearing goes a bit differently. This example provides the general idea of how the vocational expert is used during the hearing. It also illustrates the importance of having an experienced and skilled Social Security disability attorney represent you at your hearing.

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