Questions to Ask Vocational Experts at Disability Hearings

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If a Social Security Disability claim is denied, the claimant may request an appeal hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ). At the appeal hearing, the ALJ may call a vocational expert to testify about whether the claimant can perform the work they previously did and about their transferable skills.  If the vocational expert determines the claimant can no longer perform his past work, the ALJ will ask the vocational expert a series of questions based on the claimant’s medical records and testimony to determine if there are other suitable jobs the claimant can do. A disability claim may be denied again if the vocational expert names other jobs that can be done with the claimant’s residual functional capacity.  It is therefore important for the attorney on the case to know what specific hypothetical questions to ask the vocational expert in order to eliminate possible jobs.

The following is a list of questions that can help:

– What are the physical requirements of the named jobs?

– How will the claimant’s documented limitations affect his ability to perform the named jobs?

– How many open positions of the named job are there in the local and national economy?

– Where in the nation are the named jobs located?

– What source did the vocational expert use to determine how many of these named jobs are in the area?

– Did the vocational expert use recent data to determine the job number?

– Are the claimant’s current skills sufficient for the named job?

In one disability case, the vocational expert testified that the claimant could no longer do his past job as a truck driver because of his spinal stenosis and back pain, but he could do a job such as conveyor tender or operator. The vocational expert testified to most of the job requirements, but failed to add that the operator must also at times dislodge jams by moving objects on the conveyor belt. The claimant’s attorney questioned the vocational expert on all of the specific physical requirements of the conveyor tender position, and the expert stated that it did require the ability to handle and move objects. According to the claimant’s testimony and medical record, he experienced intermittent numbness in his arms and hands due to nerve compression. The claimant’s attorney then asked whether someone with numbness in the upper extremities would be able to work as a conveyor tender or operator as the job was generally performed. The vocational expert testified that the claimant could not perform the work because the numbness could cause the inability to handle and move objects.

Hypothetical and clarifying questions posed to the vocational expert, as well as emphasizing the claimant’s skills and condition, can help eliminate possible jobs a vocational expert suggested at a hearing.

If you require a vocational expert’s assistance in your claimant’s Social Security case or have any questions about vocational experts at disability hearings, contact Occupational Assessment Services. For over 35 years, we have served as experts for the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) and have evaluated claimants, assisting them in winning their disability cases.  In addition, we have worked for both plaintiffs and defendants in personal injury, divorce, social security disability, workers compensation, and wrongful termination cases. Call us at 800-292-1919 to discuss how we can help you prepare for your Social Security Disability case.