Monday, January 6, 2014

The Role of the Vocational Expert in Your Social Security Disability Hearing

If you have received a notice of an upcoming Social Security Disability hearing, you are probably wondering why the notice letter states that the judge has requested a vocational expert to be present.  Understanding what role this vocational expert will play, helps alleviate some of the stress and nervousness felt by claimants on the day of the hearing.
A vocational expert or "VE" is called to testify in practically all Social Security Disability hearings.  The role of this expert is to assist the judge in determining whether there are any jobs available that a claimant can perform given his or her limitations, age, education and skills.  It is important to be aware that the vocational expert never asks any questions directly to the claimant.  The lawyer and the judge will be the only persons asking direct questions from the claimant. 
The Vocational Expert testifies once the claimant has completed his or her testimony.  In some cases, the judge does not ask any questions of the VE.  This is usually  a good sign and it probably means that the evidence presented by the claimant was so strong that there is no doubt in the judge's mind that there are no jobs that the claimant can perform.  
The judge usually begins his questioning of the Vocational Expert by asking him or her to define the nature of the job or jobs that the claimant held in the 15 year period prior to the alleged onset date of disability.  The VE's testimony is supposed to be based on a very large publication called the "Dictionary of Occupational Titles" , also called the "DOT".  This publication contains lists of occupations with job descriptions.  Each one of these jobs is given a title and a number.  When the VE testifies, you should expect him to recite job titles followed by long 9 digit numbers.  This part of the hearing is perhaps the most complicated.  Don't be alarmed if you have a hard time following the VE's testimony.  This is one of the reasons why it is a good idea to hire Social Security Disability Lawyer who can represent you at the hearing and help you deal with highly technical testimony of the VE.  
Once the VE describes the kind of work that you did in the past 15 years, the judge will ask him or her a series of hypothetical questions.  These hypothetical questions will ask the VE to assume that the claimant has certain limitations and then ask him or her to state whether there are any jobs that the claimant can perform given these limitations.  If the VE provides convincing answers that there are jobs available in the economy that the claimant can perform, the case will be denied.  If the VE testifies that there are no jobs that the claimant can perform, the case will in all likelihood be granted. 
One he of the most important roles of a Social Security Disability lawyer is to be able to ask questions ("cross examine") of the VE in a way that would lead the judge to make a finding that there are no jobs available that the claimant can perform.  If the lawyer is successful in this stage of the case, there is a high probability that his client's case will be won.