What Role Does a Vocational Expert Play in My Disability Claim?

/ / Posts

You may have filed an application for disability benefits with the Social Security Administration (SSA) and been denied more than once. If that is the case, then you have the right to appeal those denials and have your case heard before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  

During that appeal process before the ALJ, it is most likely that the ALJ will want to learn more information about your employment history, your skill set, and your work experience. In addition, most times an ALJ will want to hear from what his called a “vocational expert.”  

In this article, we will talk about (i) what a vocational expert is, and (ii) what role the vocational expert typically plays in a disability appeal before an ALJ. Of course, if you have more questions about your own situation after reading this article, then we welcome you to talk to us at Occupational Assessment Services, Inc. (OAS).   

We are one of the most experienced employability and life care planning firms in the United States. To discuss your case, call us at 1-800-292-1919, contact us at a location near you, or through our online form.

What Does a Vocational Expert Do?

A vocational expert provides an impartial, expert opinion on all matters involving occupational skills. In SSA appeal hearings, an ALJ will typically rely on a vocational expert to help determine whether or not a particular claimant can do a particular job, or if his or her acquired skills are transferable to other occupations.  

With regard to being impartial, that means that the vocational expert has no stake in the outcome of a particular appeal hearing and is not there to take sides. Rather, the vocational expert will serve as an expert in the occupational skills at hand to advise the ALJ in making a disability decision.

With regard to a vocational expert’s expertise, he or she is generally well-versed in the skills required for different occupations, understands current job trends, has an appreciation for the earning capacity of different occupations, and is a student of labor market conditions. A vocational expert will also have some background in job placement and vocational counseling; and he or she will have a facility with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, which categorizes various occupations into different job codes.  

For any specific SSA appeal, the vocational expert will spend time reviewing the evidence supporting a claimant’s disability claim. Then, the vocational expert will make some conclusions regarding:

1. The claimant’s work history;
2. The claimant’s skill level;
3. The physical and mental demands of a number of occupations; and
4. The transferability of various skills to different jobs.

Importantly, the vocational expert’s focus is on work history and occupational issues. The vocation expert typically is not provided with a claimant’s medical history. Thus, an ALJ will not rely upon the vocational expert to give an opinion on whether a claimant’s medical condition.  

What is the Vocational Expert’s Connection to a Claimant During an SSA Appeal?

As noted, the vocational expert is not a partial advocate in an appeal hearing. Rather, the vocational expert is expected to provide an expert opinion based on occupational expertise.  

The claimant will typically have very limited contact with the vocational expert beyond the claimant’s attorney asking questions of the vocational expert at the appeal hearing itself. If the vocational expert has any questions about the claimant, he or she normally puts those questions to the ALJ, not the claimant.

The substance of a vocational expert’s testimony at a hearing will be to discuss whether a person with the claimant’s disability will be able to perform his or her most recent occupation.  

Because the vocational expert is impartial, the questions posed to him or her at the hearing are normally put in the form of a hypothetical. For example, an attorney would ask a question similar to: “Please assume that a 58-year-old warehouse worker has been working in a warehouse that requires frequent lifting of 50-pound boxes. The worker has just had surgery to his knee and hip, resulting in a maximum medical improvement of 80%. Is that person able to handle his prior job duties.”

The Importance of the Vocational Expert’s Testimony

The vocational expert can have a great deal of impact on a claimant’s disability appeal. If the vocational expert expresses an opinion that the claimant can do the job duties of his or her old job, then the disability appeal will be decided against the claimant.

However, if the vocational expert finds that the claimant cannot do his or her old job, then the ALJ will want to know if the claimant can adapt to some other type of employment. If so, the vocational expert will give a number of possible jobs that could fit the claimant’s current physical ability and skill level.

Should You Have an Attorney for Your Disability Appeal?

The short answer to that question is yes. While it is possible for a claimant to pursue an appeal alone, it is a very difficult undertaking. Having an attorney to represent you will ensure the best chance of success.  

With regard to the testimony of a vocational expert, an experienced attorney on your behalf can question the vocational expert to reach the conclusion that there are no jobs that you could reasonably perform given your disability. 

It is true that many disability claims hinge on the testimony of the vocational expert. Have an attorney in your corner, so you can effectively cross examine the vocational expert.

Let OAS Help You Understand the Value of Your Case  

OAS specializes in working with the plaintiff or defense attorney to assist in objectively documenting the economic damages in a case. From the initial referral to the trial testimony, OAS works with the retaining attorney so that the damages of the case can be objectively and efficiently presented. 

We strongly believe in the importance of a clear and understandable presentation of the facts. OAS is the leading provider of Vocational Expert and Life Care Planning Services for Plaintiff and Defense attorneys. 

The company specializes in assisting attorneys in documenting the damages in cases where an individual has been severely injured by providing objective findings on how the injuries affect a persons’ ability to work and earn money, as well as the cost of care required in catastrophic injuries.

OAS is your Vocational Expert & Life Care Planner Nationwide, with offices in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Nevada, and California.  

Occupational Assessment Services, Inc. is one of the most experienced employability and life care planning firms in the United States. To discuss your case, call us at 1-800-292-1919, contact us at a location near you, or through our online form.