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Why is There a Vocational Expert at A Social Security Disability Hearing?

  • By:The Law Center for Social Security Rights
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When attending a Social Security disability hearing, testimony from a vocational expert is typically taken at the end of the hearing. The Social Security Administration (SSA) hires vocational experts as independent contractors to testify about the classification of work you have performed in the past and to answer hypothetical questions from an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) as to what occupations can be performed with various physical or mental restrictions.

A VE can testify by telephone or in person. Their background usually consists of placing individuals in the job market through various means, such as vocational rehabilitation. Usually at the end of your hearing, the ALJ will pose hypotheticals to the VE. The ALJ will usually ask the VE what jobs are available to an individual based on their age, education, and past work experience with certain workplace restrictions the ALJ thinks may be applicable to each individual claimant. Also, the vocational expert will classify each of your relevant prior jobs to determine whether you can do your past job, and if not, what transferable skills you have. Many ALJs will ask numerous hypotheticals which gives the ALJ the opportunity to later decide which hypothetical he or she will use for each individual claimant’s decision.

The vocational expert will advise the ALJ as to the description and number of jobs in the local and/or national economies. It is important to note that when an ALJ asks examples of jobs in the economy that can be performed, it does not always mean you have lost your case as many ALJs work their way through various hypotheticals until no jobs are available for the claimant.

Fortunately, your attorney will be allowed to ask the VE follow-up questions after the ALJ has finished asking questions to rule out the jobs that the VE stated someone with your limitations could do. Many times this is done by including some limitations that the judge left out of the hypothetical. The goal is to try to get the VE to say that there are no jobs available that you can do.

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