The Vocational Expert's Role In Your Social Security Disability Hearing

3 July 2019
 Categories: Law, Blog


During any Social Security Disability hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), you can expect the government to use the testimony of a vocational expert (VE).

Here's what you need to know about vocational experts and their importance to your disability claim.

What Is a Vocational Expert?

A Vocation Expert is a special type of witness that is used by the government to justify its earlier decision to deny your disability application. The VE's sole duty is to research the types of jobs available in your area and determine which ones you can perform, given all the physical and mental limitations you may have.

The VE's opinion is often highly valued by the Administrative Law Judge when a case is decided, and his or her testimony can make or break your disability claim.

What Resources Does the Vocational Expert Use?

In order to form his or her opinion, the VE will rely on several different sources of information, some of which you provide. The first thing the VE will do is look at the types of work you have performed in the past, your education, and any special training you may have had. The VE will then contrast your previous job duties with your limitations, which you have described in your application. 

If the VE determines that you can't return to any of your prior jobs because of your limitations, he or she will then look for other jobs that you can do. This is why it is so important to carefully list every limitation you have on your disability application.

How Can You Overcome the VE's Testimony?

A large part of what a Social Security Disability attorney does is challenge the testimony of the vocational expert. Most of the time, that requires an attorney to think quickly about the jobs that a vocational expert says a claimant can do and ask detailed questions that illustrate exactly how unlikely you are to be able to actually do those jobs.

For example, imagine that the vocational expert in your case says that you can be a cashier in a grocery store, despite your back injury. Your attorney can pick apart the job duties of a cashier and ask questions like:

  • "Could someone with this back injury lift 10 or 20 pounds of water, dog food, and other items from a cart on a regular basis?"
  • "Could someone with this back injury lift heavy bags of groceries into a shopping cart after they've been packed?"
  • "Could someone with this back injury stand for an 8-hour shift?"

Each question is designed to force the VE to admit that they may not have considered the real impact of the job on you and show the ALJ that you really are disabled.

If your application for Social Security Disability benefits has been denied and you're waiting on a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge, it pays to be prepared. A Social Security Disability lawyer can help protect your rights and may be able to successfully challenge the vocational expert's testimony in order to win your case.