Question of the Month: “What does the vocational expert do at my disability hearing?”

March 4, 2019

The testimony of a vocational expert at your Social Security disability hearing may have an impact on whether or not you will be awarded disability benefits. A vocational expert (VE) is a paid expert witness hired by the Social Security Administration and will be present at almost every adult disability hearing.

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who will be deciding your case will rely on the VE’s knowledge about job availability in the current labor market and what specific skills are required to perform certain jobs. At your hearing, you will testify about your disability and your work history. The ALJ will ask a series of questions to the VE about the claimant’s condition and what work they might potentially be able to do. These are called hypotheticals. Here’s an example of a hypothetical: In the case of a warehouse forklift operator disabled by arthritis, the ALJ might ask: “What jobs, if any, could a person of the same age, education, and with the same work history as this person be able to do, if because of their condition, kneeling or bending caused debilitating pain and they could not lift more than 10 pounds during the work day?”

In response to the hypotheticals, if the VE believes that there are jobs you can perform (whether your past work or a different type of work), he or she will tell the ALJ the job titles, their code numbers and how many positions (including filled positions) there are in the general area where you live.

You or your attorney also have the right to ask the VE hypotheticals. Here is where a skilled disability attorney can be a valuable asset; he or she can ask questions on your behalf. Often your attorney will include limitations that the judge may have left out. Because of their experience and knowledge of Social Security law, disability attorneys will know the best strategies to rule out the jobs that the VE stated that someone with your limitations could do.

However, even if the VE’s opinion is favorable to your case—that your limitations prevent you from returning to your previous job and you are unable to switch to some other kind of work— that is only half the battle. Similarly, even if the VE’s opinion is unfavorable, this does not mean that your case will be denied. In the end, to win, the ALJ must believe that your limitations are as severe as you and your doctors say they are. Your testimony, backed up with detailed medical records, documentation from your medical providers, and opinions of your doctors, is equally important in winning your fight for disability benefits.

As you can see, attending a disability hearing is not as simple as showing up and explaining your medical problems. SSA calls its own witnesses, and their testimony can affect the outcome. Therefore, it is worthwhile to have a local, Chicago Social Security disability lawyer with significant experience review your claim and offer you the best possible advice for your unique situation. You can call Nash Disability Law at 312.883.9465 or contact us through our website for a free evaluation of your disability claim. We are here to help you get the benefits you have earned.