Along with the judge, every Social Security Disability hearing has a vocational expert who appears and testifies at the hearing. By definition, a vocational expert is a professional who provides impartial expert opinion evidence about a claimant’s vocational abilities. Simply put, a judge uses a vocational expert to determine whether a claimant can perform his/her past work or other work available in the economy. A vocational expert will give their opinion based on their knowledge of physical and mental demands of certain occupations as well as characteristics of work settings, existence, and incidence of jobs within occupations. A vocational expert will also provide analysis on the issue of transferable skills when necessary. At the hearing, the judge will first ask the vocational expert to classify any full-time work the claimant has performed in the past fifteen years. After classification of past work is done, the judge will then give hypothetical questions for the vocational expert to answer. Hypothetical questions typically include a variety of physical and mental limitations based on specific disabling impairments of the claimant. An example of a hypothetical may be the following: “An individual of the same age, educational level, and work history as the claimant and this individual can stand/walk 4 hours total, sit 4 hours total, can lift 10 pounds occasionally, can lift less than 10 pounds frequently, and is unable to reach overhead with the upper right extremity.” The vocational expert then must tell the judge whether those limitations listed in the hypothetical allow the individual to do the claimant’s past work. If no past work can be done with those limitations, the vocational expert will then testify as to what jobs (if there are any) that a person with those work-related limitations in the hypothetical can do. A claimant’s attorney will also have a chance to question the vocational expert to try and rule out jobs listed. Overall, working with an attorney prior to your hearing is crucial to better understand how your age, education, past work, and physical/mental limitations may impact the vocational expert’s testimony and your case.
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Social Security Disability Hearing: The Vocational Expert’s Role
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