If you have recently been through, or are getting ready for, a Social Security disability hearing, this may be one of the questions you have. You may have received a notice about your hearing, telling you that there will be a Vocational Expert (VE) present at the hearing. Some of the questions you might have are:
What is a vocational expert (VE)?
A vocational expert is a person who has experience and knowledge in the areas of jobs, job skills, job placement, labor markets, employment opportunities and similar matters. Ideally, the vocational expert testifying at a Social Security disability hearing would be a professional who spends a significant portion of time working to assist people in finding competitive employment in the workplace. Presumably, this would give the VE practical and reliable experience in assessing the availability of jobs and how they are performed in the workplace. The person who serves as VE at your hearing has been hired by the Social Security Administration as an “expert” to provide testimony on those issues in response to questions from the judge.
What does the vocational expert know about my situation?
The VE will review your Social Security file before the hearing to learn about your previous work experience. She will evaluate the jobs you have performed and classify your past employment in terms of skill levels and physical requirements. The vocational expert is almost always present at the hearing and will listen to your testimony to get additional information. On a rare occasion, at least in my experience, a vocational expert will not be present at the hearing and will be joined in on a conference call to answer questions from the judge.
What does the vocational expert do at my hearing?
After you have answered questions by the judge and your attorney or representative, the judge will then have a number of questions for the vocational expert. (At some hearings, there will also be a medical expert present to offer testimony, but that’s the subject for another post).
The judge may ask the VE if she has any additional questions for you to clarify your employment history or some of the jobs you have previously performed. The judge will ask the VE to describe your previous employment in terms of skills and physical requirements. After that, the judge will usually ask the VE a series of hypothetical questions, based upon your claimed disabilities and limitations.
The VE will offer opinions about whether you are able to return to any of your previous jobs or whether you can perform other jobs which exist in significant numbers within the regional or national economy. Depending upon what physical restrictions and limitations the judge is using, the vocational expert’s opinions will usually make the difference in whether you win or lose your claim. For a more detailed explanation about how the judge determines if you are disabled, please see this earlier post
Can I or my attorney ask the VE questions?
Yes. After the VE finishes answering the judge’s questions, you or your attorney may ask the VE additional questions (this is called “cross examination”).
This was a very short and generalized explanation of what a vocational expert is and does. Every Social Security disability claim is different, because every claim is based upon the specific facts and circumstances of your life. Each case is based upon a unique mixture of medical information, disabling conditions, educational backgrounds and work histories. Hopefully, this will give you a basic understanding of the vocational expert’s role in your Social Security disability hearing.