The kinds of experts called in disability hearings can include vocational experts, medical experts, and disability doctors, called consultative examiners. Generally speaking, SSA usually doesn’t call on a medical expert for a disability hearing. However, SSA Administrative Law Judges and lawyers are laymen in medical matters, so they must rely on the opinions of medical and mental health professionals to shed light on the Claimant’s condition.
When medical experts are used, they review the paper documents and testify to the nature, severity, duration, onset, and limiting effects of the Claimant’s physical and/or mental impairments. The type of medical expert testifying will depend on the claimant’s impairment. Availability of a medical expert is also a factor. A psychiatrist or clinical psychologist testifies as to the Claimant’s mental impairments, while a doctor such as an internist testifies as to the Claimant’s physical impairments. Occasionally, a more specialized medical expert, such as a rheumatologist, orthopedist, or pulmonologist will testify.
If the Administrative Law judge doesn’t provide a medical expert at the hearing, he or she must weigh the opinions of the non-examining state agency medical consultants. These consultants are hired by SSA to review the paper documents at the Initial and Reconsideration levels. This includes any opinions from consultative examining physicians or psychologists, as well as any opinions from the Claimant’s own medical sources.
A judge may or may not give significant weight to the opinion of a medical expert in deciding the case. Medical experts vary in terms of providing supportive or damaging testimony. The same exact medical evidence can be provided to two different medical experts but their opinions may be totally opposite from one another. One expert may view the medical evidence as supportive of the Claimant’s case, while another may pick through the same testimony and point only to the negative portions of the medical evidence. Your attorney will be allowed the opportunity to cross-examine the medical expert at the hearing. Attorneys use their skills and training to ask relevant, effective questions in support of their client’s case.
What Is The Importance Of Vocational Expert Testimony At A Social Security Disability Hearing?
A Vocational Expert assists the Administrative Law Judge in classifying your past relevant work, both as you actually performed the work and as the work is generally performed. Proving that you cannot return to your past relevant work as you actually did it is only part of the equation. You also have to show you cannot perform the work as it is generally performed, even if the job is generally done differently than the way that you did it.
Proving that you can’t return to your past relevant work only gets your foot in the door. Other, less demanding work is still on the table. The Vocational Expert’s job is to answer the judge’s questions regarding whether less demanding work is an option in consideration of your age, education, past relevant work, and physical and/or mental limitations. The judge will pose a series of hypothetical questions to the Vocational Expert, which will either impart jobs or not. The Vocational Expert does not know whether you can or can’t work; they will only answer questions based on the limitations the Administrative Law Judge poses to them in the hypothetical questions. If the judge asks the wrong hypothetical question, which leaves out significant limitations, the Vocational Expert will likely find that you can work. If the judge includes all your limitations in the hypothetical question to the Vocational Expert, it is more likely the Vocational Expert will say that you can’t work. Sometimes, Administrative Law Judges will ask a mixture of adverse and supportive hypothetical questions that elicit different answers from the Vocation Expert and then the judge will choose which answer he or she likes best when deciding your claim. Your attorney will also be given the opportunity to cross-examine the Vocational Expert and ensure all of your relevant limitations and vocational factors are posed for their consideration.
A Vocational Expert should only ask you questions through the Administrative Law Judge, but some judges will allow them to question you directly. The questioning should be limited to vocational issues only. Most of the time, Vocational Experts mainly want to clarify some aspect of your past work, such as how long you performed a certain job, what your specific duties were, and the physical and mental requirements of the job. Sometimes, they may need clarification on other relevant vocational issues. For example, if you elevate your legs, they may want to know how high and how often you must do so. You should always have a skilled attorney present to safeguard that the Vocational Expert is not overstepping the scope of the questioning.
Does Social Security Use Doctors Of Their Own To Evaluate Medical Tests And Records?
The Social Security Administration uses their own medical experts to evaluate medical tests and records. Besides these medical experts, SSA routinely uses consultative examiners. These are doctors hired by SSA to conduct physical or mental examinations and laboratory or diagnostic tests, and create reports that summarize their findings. These doctors may or may not review your medical evidence. Sometimes these examiners provide opinions about the nature, degree, and limiting effects of the Claimant’s impairments.
For more information on SSA Not Supplying A Medical Expert, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (214) 373-3761 today.
by Paul B. Burkhalter Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law.