You are at a Social Security disability hearing and have just finished testifying about your medical conditions and how they prevent you from working, and about what kind of work you’ve done in the past. The Judge then turns to another person in the room who starts talking about your work history and spouting off all these jobs he/she thinks you can do.
You say to yourself: “Who is this person? How can they say my job was “light” when I lifted and carried 75 pounds and was on my feet all day? Why do they think I can work as a telemarketer when I’ve never done that in my life?”
The person answering the Judge’s questions is a “vocational expert” or a “VE.” A VE is usually a person employed as a work rehabilitation specialist and places people with different kinds of disabilities in jobs. He/she is required to have a graduate degree(s) in vocational rehabilitation, current and extensive 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, and experience with industrial and occupational trends and local labor market conditions, and current knowledge and use of a variety of vocational reference sources.
A VE is there to answer questions posed by the judge and are supposed to be impartial. They are not there to give the judge their personal opinion on whether you can or cannot work, although some come close to doing so. Judges ask questions of VE’s to determine whether you can return to your past work (generally, work that you’ve done in the last 15 years) either as you actually performed it or as it is generally performed. If a judge determines you can’t return to your past relevant work, then the inquiry becomes whether there is other less physically and/or mentally demanding work that exists in significant numbers in the regional and national economy. The way a judge determines this is by asking the VE a series of hypothetical questions that “should” incorporate all of your physical and/or mental limitations. I say “should” because oftentimes judges leave out important limitations which may prove why you cannot work. You also have a right to question a VE which is why it is so important to know which questions are relevant to your case.
Some cases can be very technical, especially when they involve certain age categories. VE’s usually classify your past relevant work based upon your written and oral statements. That is why it is very important to describe your job duties and the physical and mental requirements of each job accurately. It is your burden of proof to show you cannot return to your past relevant work. Once you’ve done so, the burden of proof shifts to the Government to show there are still “other” less demanding jobs you can do. You should be ready to ask appropriate questions of the VE to demonstrate why you cannot do this work as well. To make sure you are thoroughly prepared at your Social Security disability hearing, consult with the Board Certified attorneys at Morgan & Weisbrod, L.L.P.
by Paul B. Burkhalter Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law.