Understanding the Role of a Vocational Expert at a Disability Appeal Hearing

Vocational experts can be important to your fair Social Security disability hearing. Vocational experts are required to have experience in counseling and the actual job placement of people with physical and/or mental disabilities. They are required to possess up-to-date knowledge of industrial and occupational trends and local labor market conditions and to use a variety of vocational reference sources. The vocational expert is supposed to offer an unbiased opinion about the kind of work available, if any, to someone with your limitations.

The Vocational Expert’s Testimony at a Disability Hearing

Job Description binder and other paperwork on a deskA vocational expert will listen to your testimony in order to objectively assess your case, taking into consideration what you have said about your limitations. Then, the administrative law judge (ALJ) will ask the vocational expert a series of hypothetical questions about job functions and the impairments described in your claim. For example, if you have a physical limitation, the ALJ could ask:

  • Could an individual who is unable to stoop, lift more than ten pounds, or sit upright for more than a half hour at a time perform any of the jobs listed in the claimant’s past relevant work history?
  • What other jobs might someone in the same age group as the claimant, with the same educational background and work history, be able to perform without being able to stoop, lift more than ten pounds, or sit upright for more than a half hour without a break?

If the vocational expert feels that there are other jobs to which a person with your impairments could adjust, he will say so in his testimony, and also provide the job title and the number of positions available locally. If the vocational expert’s opinion goes undisputed, then it is likely that your claim will be denied.

What to Do When You Don’t Agree With the Vocational Expert

It is important not to react to anything the vocational expert says, even if it seems unfair. Everyone attending your hearing should be treated respectfully. It is also important to remember that a vocational expert’s knowledge about your specific case is limited. A skillful cross-examination will be essential if you disagree with the vocational expert. An experienced disability attorney will be able to combine his own knowledge about the current job market, your limitations, and the typical biases of expert witnesses to effectively cross-examine the vocational expert. Every cross-examination is different, but an attorney will often counter the vocational expert’s testimony by asking follow-up questions about functions necessary to perform any recommended jobs that the ALJ may have neglected to include in his or her hypothetical questions.

The experienced Social Security disability lawyers at Morgan & Weisbrod believe that cross-examination is one of the most important services we can provide for our clients. To learn more about how we can help, call 877-898-1581or complete the online contact form.

Carl M. Weisbrod
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Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law