21 Nov Who is the Vocational Expert?
One of the individuals present at a Social Security disability hearing is the vocational expert. This individual is considered an “expert witness” who listens to the limitations caused by your disability, your work experience, and your background and then renders an opinion as to what jobs, if any, you are able to perform. Some claimants are surprised to hear the vocational expert claim that the claimant can perform this job or that occupation, especially if there are no employers offering that sort of job in their area. How does the vocational expert arrive at his or her opinions, and how can a disability claimant obtain a favorable opinion from the expert?
Classifying Your Prior Work History
Through questioning of the administrative law judge (ALJ) and you or your attorney, the vocational expert will classify your relevant prior jobs in terms of skill level and the physical requirements necessary to do that job. The vocational expert can only consider past relevant work; that is, jobs that lasted long enough for you to learn how to do the essential job functions, jobs that have been performed within the last 15 years, and jobs that were performed at the “substantial gainful activity” level.
When You Cannot Perform Your Prior Work
If the vocational expert believes you cannot perform any of your prior jobs, the ALJ will typically ask if there are any other jobs you can do with your prior experience and your present limitations. Your claim will be denied if the vocational expert testifies there are jobs in your area that you can perform even with your limitations – even if no one in your area is hiring for that particular job.
Defeating the Vocational Expert’s Opinion
After the vocational expert has rendered his or her opinions, you or your attorney can cross-examine the vocational expert. This is where the help of experienced Social Security disability counsel can make all the difference. If the vocational expert improperly classifies your past work experience or the skills you learned from those jobs, then the opinions he or she renders about whether you can perform any jobs from your past may be incorrect. Your attorney can challenge the vocational expert’s opinion in this regard, especially if he or she considers jobs that are not past relevant work.
In addition, the vocational expert’s opinion can be challenged if he or she did not consider all of your limitations. For instance, suppose that the vocational expert did not consider that you cannot stand on your feet for more than 30 minutes at a time when rendering her opinion. Your attorney can point out medical evidence showing you do indeed have this limitation, and can ask the vocational expert how this additional limitation changes his or her opinion.
Contact The Klok Law Firm
If you or a loved one is applying for Social Security disability benefits in Mount Pleasant or Charleston, contact The Klok Law Firm, L.L.C. for a free initial consultation today. We can help you receive the disability benefits to which you are entitled.