Why is a Vocational Expert at my Social Security Hearing Saying I can be a Surveillance System Monitor?

The Social Security process is a complex and cumbersome process to say the least.   Without the guidance of a capable Social Security lawyer, it can become overwhelming trying to understand why things are happening the way they are, especially at your hearing.  Why the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is turning to a vocational expert in the first place can be confusing.  Even more upsetting to a claimant can be when you hear that vocational expert testify that you can be returning to a job such as a surveillance system monitor (with most wondering what that job even is).

For the ALJ to call a Vocational Expert (VE) to testify is a quite common practice  These individuals are considered experts in the field of vocational placement of workers, with knowledge of the employment landscape both regionally (where the claimant resides) and in the national economy.

The purpose of having a VE at your hearing is to provide the presiding ALJ with an assessment of the types of past work you have performed (within the 15 year period prior to becoming disabled, called your past relevant work), your educational background and the extent to which you have acquired skills that might transfer to occupations other than what you may have performed in the past.   They are then called to testify as to the availability of jobs either regionally or in the national economy that might be available for someone such as you (that is, based on your particular vocational background).

Thus, whether your case is out of Maine, Massachusetts or New Hampshire, a Social Security lawyer who is knowledgeable and experienced with Social Security’s regulations will help ensure that your rights under the regulations remain protected at hearing.   Social Security’s Vocational Expert Handbook spell out the VE’s responsibilities, providing that they are expected to have knowledge of:

  • The skill level and physical and mental demands of occupations.
  • The characteristics of work settings.
  •         The existence and incidence of jobs within occupations.
  •         Transferable skills analysis and SSA regulatory requirements for transferability of work skills.

Likewise, they are supposed to have knowledge of the current occupational trends along with that of one’s local labor market conditions.  They are supposed to have knowledge of a number of publications, including the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (referred to as the DOT), which was last updated in 1991, along with more current publications such as the County Business Patterns published by Bureau of the Census and the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Upon initial questioning of the ALJ, the VE will asked if they are familiar with these various publications and that they have reviewed the file material relevant to your vocational background and your past relevant work.  They will be instructed to testify as to the types of work you have performed in the past, and will be asked to cite the job title from the DOT that corresponds with the manner of work you performed (along with the exertional level and skill level of the work you previously performed).   Upon doing so, the ALJ will many times provide a hypothetical or series of hypotheticals that would include your age, education and past work experience along with a set of physical and/or mental health limitations that would impact your ability to function in a work environment.  The ALJ will then ask the VE whether, given the hypothetical, you are deemed capable of performing any of your past relevant work, or any other jobs that exist in the national economy and to cite such jobs using the DOT code numbers (additionally providing the prevalence of such jobs in one’s local economy or in the national economy).

In a circumstance where the ALJ is seeking to find out whether there are jobs that exist for someone limited to sit down (sedentary), unskilled employment, VEs have been known  to testify to a position called a Surveillance System Monitory.    It is important for your counsel to both know and argue that, as with all information contained in the DOT, the information regarding job duties of the various positions are outdated.  In this particular instance, the job description was last updated in 1986 when computers were not the standard.   It then becomes important to inquire of the VE whether, based on how such jobs are performed today, whether they allow one to sit for the vast majority of the day (as sedentary is defined in the DOT) or, instead, do they require considerable walking the floor and being on one’s feet (as many vocational analyses have come to show, which would cause the job to be described as light at the very least).   Moreover, if such jobs now require the knowledge and use of computers (and the ability to type reports) then this may very well require skills that a claimant simply does not have (and, as such, is a skilled, not unskilled position).

This is yet another example as to why having an experienced lawyer at your side at hearing can make a big difference in the outcome of your case.  If you are concerned about the issues you might face at hearing, contact the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith at 1-800-773-8622 for the peace of mind that skilled legal representation can give you.

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