The Role of the Vocational Expert at the Administrative Hearing, Part II

In the first part of our blog series on Vocational Experts and their role in the Administrative Hearing process we explained the legal issues that arise in a Social Security disability claim and the manner in which an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will go through their sequential evaluation process and, if appropriate and necessary as part of that, utilize the services of a Vocational Expert (VE) at hearing.  In Part II of this series, we’ll discuss the process by which a VE will prepare for and testify at the actual hearing. 

The VE may be called to testify at the Administrative Hearing either in person or by telephone, and will be required to testify under oath, ordinarily following the taking of the claimant’s testimony.  Typically, the VE is provided with Sections D and E of the claimant’s Social Security file to review prior to the hearing (which sections contain both the work history and earnings history of the claimant) and is required to provide his curriculum vitae evidencing his experience/credentials evidencing the fact that he/she does in fact have expertise in the area of vocational placement and vocational factors which may impact a disabled individual’s ability to function in various work environments. Once the VE has been “qualified,” the presiding ALJ will then inquire of the expert as to whether hey have been provided with the claimant’s file material and have sufficient information from the Social Security file which will allow them to characterize the type of work performed previously: i.e.,  to characterize the past relevant work of the claimant.   If not, the VE may be directed by the ALJ to direct questions to the claimant in order to get clarification as to  the manner in which prior jobs were performed, the duties required, the hours worked, pay received, length of time performed, the education/training required and the manner in which said education and training was required in the day to day performance of the job) so as to be able to provide an accurate detail of the claimant’s “past relevant work”by referencing jobs titles contained within the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (the DOT) (a publication created in the 1990’s by the Department of Labor to define at that time over 13,000 types of work.

Following characterization of the claimant’s past relevant work, the ALJ ordinarily calls upon the Vocational Expert to assume various hypothetical scenarios (based on the claimant’s age, education, past work experience, including any transferable skills from their past relevant work, along with a set of physical and/or mental limitations imposed by the claimant’s impairments, called their “residual functional capacity”) so as to determine their ability to perform any of the claimant’s past relevant work and, ultimately, whether there are other jobs that exist in significant numbers in either the claimant’s region or other regions of the country.  In doing so, this testimony allows the ALJ to reach conclusions as to steps 4 and 5 of the sequential evaluation process as part of his decision making process.

The presiding ALJ always allow claimant’s counsel to pose questions of the VE that may further test such issues as whether the past relevant work has been cited appropriately, whether a particular job may in fact be appropriately cited as appropriate based on the hypothetical cited by the judge, or, for example, whether other additional factors that claimant’s counsel believes are supported by the medical evidence of record would further impact the appropriateness of jobs cited by the VE (among many other issues).   It is likewise important to understand that a VE is expressly prohibited from testifying as to their opinion of a claimant’s limitations or concerning the ultimately conclusion as to whether the claimant should be found disabled under Social Security’s rules (which ruling remains in the ALJ’s province alone).

Having an experienced Social Security disability lawyer prepare you for hearing will ensure you are prepare for the procedures which will take place at hearing: they will ensure you understand who the players are at hearing, the role of each player and the types of questions that may be posed of both the claimant and others.  If you are a loved one is is faced with either the filing of an initial claim, or the need to appeal for reconsideration or hearing, contact the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith at 1-800-773-8622 to see how we might assist you with understand the Social Security disability process.