Taking on Vocational Experts to Win Social Security Disability Cases

May 2, 2023

The testimony of a vocational expert can be a deciding factor in your disability case.

A vocational expert (VE) is a paid expert witness hired by the Social Security Administration (SSA) who will be present at almost every disability hearing.

The vocational expert is presumed to have knowledge of and experience with job trends and local labor market conditions. They are supposed to provide an impartial expert opinion. But, as Nash Disability Law attorney Kevin Lichtenthal points out, “In our experience with hundreds of disability appeal hearings, we have found that vocational experts are not always impartial and they are not always experts.”

Most applications for disability benefits are turned down at the initial application stage or the subsequent reconsideration phase, which is a review of your claim by someone who did not take part in the first decision.

By law, applicants who have been denied benefits on initial application and reconsideration have the right to an appeal hearing in front of a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ).

In most cases, a vocational expert will testify at your hearing about jobs that exist in the current local labor market and what specific skills and functional abilities are required to perform certain jobs. Whether you can actually get a job offer is not at issue, but only whether you could perform the job if it were offered to you.

The judge will ask the VE a series of questions about your condition and what work you might be able to do. These are called hypotheticals.

Here’s an example of a hypothetical: In the case of a person with spinal stenosis, the judge might ask: “What jobs, if any, could a person of the same age, education, and with the same work history as the claimant be able to do if he or she could lift no more than 10 pounds on a regular basis, could stand for no more than 30 minutes at a time, and needed to lay down periodically throughout the day.”

In response to the hypotheticals, if the VE believes that there are jobs you can do—whether that is your past work or a different type of work—he or she will tell that to the judge. These days, ALJs almost universally rely on VEs to determine whether there are jobs a claimant can perform.

You and your disability lawyer also have the right to ask the expert hypotheticals and other questions.

Here is where a skilled Nash Disability attorney can be a valuable asset: He or she can ask the tough questions on your behalf.

Often your Social Security Disability lawyer will call attention to limitations that the judge may have left out. Because of their experience and knowledge of Social Security law, our disability attorneys are skilled at raising overlooked physical and mental limitations, and they know the best strategies to rule out jobs the vocational expert stated that someone with your limitations could do.

It is important for you to know that if the VE testifies that there are a significant number of jobs you can do despite your disability, you can be denied benefits.

“Challenging VE testimony can be crucial to being awarded the disability benefits you have rightfully earned,” disability lawyer Lichtenthal notes. “Our firm’s attorneys are well versed in the law and rules for VE testimony that can be used to discredit a VEs harmful claims during cross-examination.”

As you can see, winning a disability hearing is not as simple as showing up and explaining your medical problems. Therefore, it is worthwhile to have a Social Security Disability attorney in your corner with significant experience to review your claim and offer you the best possible advice and a winning strategy for your unique situation.

Contact us at Nash Disability Law for a free evaluation of your disability benefits claim. We are here to help you get the benefits you deserve, and we only get paid if you win your case.