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What to Expect of a Vocational Expert at your Disability Hearing

Burke Law PLLC Oct. 21, 2019

In the recent blog post titled “What to Expect at a Social Security Disability Hearing” there was a brief discussion of a vocational expert’s role at a disability hearing. This article is intended to discuss the vocational expert’s role in more detail.

So, who is the vocational expert? Generally speaking, the vocational expert (hereinafter referred to as the “VE”) is a person who is an expert in employment requirements. This person should have knowledge of what jobs exist in the market, how many of those jobs exist, and the various physical and mental requirements of those jobs. The VE is called upon at a disability hearing to give impartial expert testimony about what, if any, jobs exist in the economy for a person with specific vocational abilities.

The first subject that a VE is often called upon at a disability hearing to testify about is the past work history of the person applying for benefits (hereinafter referred to as the “claimant”). The VE will be asked to match each job as described by the claimant to a job within the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (hereinafter referred to as the “DOT”), which is a publication by the United States Department of Labor that includes definitions of over 13,000 different jobs. Each job in the DOT is assigned a code and the VE will recite the codes that match the claimant’s past work. The VE will also testify regarding the exertional requirements (sedentary, light, medium, heavy, or very heavy) and the skill level (unskilled, semi-skilled, or skilled) required of each job, both as the job is generally performed and how the claimant actually performed that job. When discussing the skill level of each job, the VE will refer to what is called a Specific Vocational Preparation (hereinafter referred to as the “SVP”) rating of 1 to 9, which is indicative of how long it would take a person to develop the skills needed to perform the specific job.

Next, a VE will typically be asked by the judge about how various exertional and non-exertional limitations affect a hypothetical person’s ability to perform the past jobs previously classified. If the VE testifies that the limitations provided by the judge would preclude a person’s ability to perform those past jobs, the VE will likely be asked whether there are other jobs in the national or regional economy that a person with those limitations could perform. If the VE testifies affirmatively, the VE will be expected to testify regarding the availability of those jobs in terms of the number of those jobs that exist in the regional or national economy. The VE may also be asked to testify regarding the extent to which the claimant acquired skills in the past relevant work that might transfer to other occupations.

This all may sound very confusing so here is a real example of what the interaction between the judge and the VE sounds like:

Judge: VE, please classify the claimant’s past relevant work.

VE: The claimant worked as a Nurse Assistant, DOT Code 355.674-014, which is a semi-skilled job with an SVP of 4, that is generally performed at the medium exertional level, and the claimant performed at the job at the heavy exertional level.

Judge: OK. Imagine a hypothetical person with the same age, education, and work history of the claimant. This person is limited to medium exertional work with simple, routine, repetitive, and one and two-step tasks, and this person can only occasionally interact with the general public, co-workers, and supervisors. Can this hypothetical person perform the claimant’s past relevant work as a Nurse Assistant?

VE: No, that person could not perform the claimant’s past relevant work as a Nurse Assistant.

Judge: Are there other jobs in the national economy that the hypothetical person could perform?

VE: Yes. That person could perform the job of a Laundry Worker, DOT Code 361.386-018, which is an unskilled job with an SVP of 2 and is generally performed at the medium exertional level. There are 20,000 of these jobs in the national economy.

Judge: If I were to add the limitation that the hypothetical person would be absent from work two times per month, could that person perform the claimant’s past relevant work or other jobs in the national economy?

VE: No, that person would be unemployable.

Still confused? This is one reason why it is important to have experienced counsel. Experienced counsel will listen carefully to the judge’s questions and the VE’s testimony and will have an opportunity to ask the VE additional questions while ensuring that the VE’s testimony is professionally sound. At Burke Law, PLLC, Attorney Burke has extensive experience doing the same. If you, or someone you know, is waiting for a disability hearing, contact Burke Law, PLLC today for a free strategy session.