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Breaking Down Vocational Expert Testimony: Exertional Levels

Vocational experts are present at every Social Security Disability hearing. Their job is to not only classify your past relevant work, but to also testify as to what jobs are available in the national economy. Often their testimony at the hearing may be difficult to understand due to the acronyms or other Social Security specific terms being used in their testimony.

One area that is referred to by vocational experts is the physical exertional level of work. Specifically, the vocational expert will be asked to give the exertional level of either past work or other jobs in the economy. These exertional levels determine the physical demands of a certain jobs including their requirements of sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling.

These exertional levels are broken down into 5 different levels - sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy.

  • Sedentary works involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and majority of time is spent sitting. For example, these types of jobs could include desk jobs such as office clerk or receptionist.
  • Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting of items up to 10 pounds; generally, light work also means you stand majority of the day (up to 6 hours out of an 8-hour day). This type of work could include work as a cashier.
  • Medium work involves lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time with frequent lifting of items up to 25 pounds; majority of time is spent standing on the job as well.
  • Finally, heavy work and very heavy work involves lifting no more than 100 pounds at a time with frequent lifting of items up to 50 pounds; majority of time is spent standing on the job as well.

These exertional levels are very important because they are not only used in vocational expert testimony to classify jobs but are used in three different steps in the 5-step disability evaluation process. They are used to determine an individual's residual functional capacity, evaluation whether the claimant can perform their past work, and if not, whether they can perform other work in the economy.

These exertional levels are also vital into how the medical-vocational grid rules are applied to a specific case. Overall, it is important to work with an experienced disability attorney to understand how exertional levels of your past work may impact your disability case.

Reference Link: https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/cfr20/404/404-1567.htm

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