Vocational Experts at Social Security Hearings

It is unusual to have a social security hearing without a vocational expert present to offer testimony. Very often, the vocational expert makes or breaks your social security claim.

The vocational expert, hired by Social Security, assists the Administrative Law Judge by analyzing your residual functional capacity (advising the Judge what activities you are able to do despite your disabilities and limitations) and determines whether jobs exist in the national economy that you can still perform given your limitations.

The Judge will ask the vocational expert a hypothetical question incorporating your physical and mental limitations and ask the vocational expert whether and how many jobs exist that you can still perform. If the vocational expert can identify jobs within your residual functional capacity, most often you will be found to be “not disabled” because there is work available, even if you can’t find it.

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by truthrevealed via flickr
Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by truthrevealed via flickr

In order to give valid opinions, vocational experts must have training and experience in vocational counseling or placement, an up-to-date knowledge of job requirements, occupational characteristics and working conditions, and a familiarity with the personal attributes and skills necessary to function in various jobs. If the vocational expert testifies that there are jobs in the economy that you (the hypothetical person in the Judge’s question) can perform, it is your lawyer’s job to show the Judge through cross-examination that the expert is not qualified, or that the expert’s opinion as to the existence of or the number of jobs you can perform is not accurate or reliable, that the opinion is not supported by the limitations reflected in the record, and/or to add additional limitations or restrictions to the hypothetical that the Judge presented that were omitted and may result in a different opinion.

For example, the Judge may have neglected to include your difficulties in concentration due to mental impairments in the hypothetical question.  While an extreme example, if the vocational expert has thus testified that you can work as an air traffic controller, an experienced social security attorney will be able to exploit this omission to get you disability benefits. As another example, if the vocational expert testifies you can be a cashier when the hypothetical question failed to include the fact that you have diabetic neuropathy and resulting numbness in your fingers, a lawyer will be able to demonstrate to the Judge that this is not a job his or her client can actually perform.

In my practice, we ordinarily send questionnaires to the treating doctors to disclose the claimant’s (applicant’s) limitations in sitting, standing, stooping, reaching, fingering, walking, concentrating, maintaining pace, memory etc. These additional limitations usually will appear in the medical record portion of your file as well. When cross-examining the vocational expert, we will add these limitations to the hypothetical question asked by the Judge and often will elicit an opinion that with the additional limitations presented, the claimant is not employable.

Successful cross-examination of the vocational expert is often the key to winning your case.  As such, it is important to hire an experienced social security attorney like myself, Martin Hoffman of Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, P.A. to get you a favorable result at hearing.  Call us today to get a free, no obligation consultation.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!