What is a Vocational Expert & What Do They Do?

attorney james ezzellI get this question a lot from clients.

One of the many notices claimants receive from the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) is a copy of correspondence directed toward a Vocational Expert (VE) requesting that they appear the day of the hearing prepared to discuss the client’s past work history and respond to hypothetical questions the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will propose to them.  Medical Experts are rarely summoned in my geographical area.

What is a Vocational Expert?

As I pointed on in a recent blog post detailing the overall structure of SSA’s hearings, VEs are not attorneys and are considered impartial even though the SSA compensates them for their appearance. They will only interact with claimants superficially (saying “Hello,” etc.) if at all.  They will not cross-examine them or engage them adversarially.

VEs usually have college degrees, training, and work experience closely associated with their profession.  Regarding claimants’ past work, the VEs will go back 15 years and take each individual job and testify about the skill, physical and mental demands required to perform them and whether or not there are any transferrable skills to lower exertional levels.

Usually, this information is gleaned from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook and the VEs own personal experience in the field among other resources.

What Will the Hypothetical Questions Be About?

Regarding the hypothetical questions the ALJ will pose to the VE, they will contain a number of variables that usually start off fairly light allowing for the claimant’s past or other work to be performed.  The VE will then give the associated national and regional figures and with the skill, physical and mental demands for each mirroring their earlier testimony on the claimant’s past work.

The ALJ will then usually increase the restrictions and limitations on subsequent hypotheticals until the VE testifies there is no work, past or other, a person suffering from that symptomatology can perform.  I always caution clients not to panic when the VE starts reeling off jobs as the ALJ is not bound by any particular hypothetical response and can essentially cherry pick which one he wants to use to buttress his decision.  Just about all hearings are structured along these lines.

Contact a Trusted SSA Disability Benefits Attorney Today

Of course, this just scratches the surface as the SSA’s Vocational Expert Handbook details at length for those interested in digging a little deeper.

If you or your child have been denied SSA disability benefits or suffer from a severe impairment that is expected to last for more than twelve months and that prevents you from doing any of your past or other work or is causing developmental delay in your child, please contact our office nearest to you to set up a free consultation appointment to discuss your situation.

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