Social Security Disability Insurance
Written by: Bruce L. Weider | 4.03.2024

The Role Of Vocational Expert Testimony In Social Security Disability Hearings

If you applied for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits and the application was denied, you have the option to file an appeal with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Social Security Disability hearings are held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who may uphold the initial denial or overturn it and approve your claim.

Preparing for a hearing means more than simply presenting the same documentation and application you had at your initial claim. At the hearing, you may present additional supporting evidence for your claim, including more extensive medical records. The SSA may also present evidence, in the form of vocational expert testimony from a professional who evaluated your medical status and ability to work.

The thought of facing a vocational expert witness may be intimidating for many applicants. However, you do not have to go through this alone. An experienced SSD claims attorney from Bruce L. Weider, P.C., can prepare your appeal, help you understand what to expect from vocational expert witness testimony at your appeal, and argue your appeal before the ALJ. Call our experienced legal team today at (734) 485-0535 to learn more. 

Why Do I Need a Social Security Disability Hearing?

The purpose of an SSD hearing is to determine the type of gainful employment you can perform according to the limits of your disability or whether you cannot work at all. The hearing examines your mental reports and abilities, work history, and the nature of your disability, as well as any other factors affecting your claim.

Understanding what you may be required to do and what you are up against for your SSD hearing requires a fuller understanding of the role of a vocational expert.

What Is an SSD Vocational Expert Witness?

Vocational experts are hired by the SSA. They have extensive knowledge of the skills required for many occupations, the expected professional earning capacity of people at different stages of their career paths in many fields, and the current state of the job market for different industries in specific areas of the country.

Their role is to share this knowledge with the ALJ at an SSD hearing, testifying about what skills or abilities someone would need for specific gainful employment and the chances of securing employment. For example, one individual may be an expert in construction industry jobs, including builders, electricians, masons, and landscapers. This witness may testify about the skills required for each job and the average earnings for each position.

The Role of a Vocational Expert in a Social Security Disability Hearing

An SSD hearing is like a fresh look at your application, disability, and limitations that preclude you from working or working in the same capacity you were before becoming disabled. The ALJ reviews your medical records and asks questions about your work history, medical treatments, the extent of your injury, and any prognosis for recovery or improved abilities. Essentially, the ALJ seeks as much information as possible about your ability to work.

Once the ALJ receives your answers to these questions, they next ask the expert witness a series of questions. However, these questions are not specifically about you but rather a series of hypothetical questions about what someone with a disability similar to yours would be able to do. 

Keeping with our construction industry example, the ALJ may ask what skills and abilities a pipe fitter would need. Then, the ALJ will ask the expert whether someone with a disability similar to yours could complete the job requirements of the pipe fitter. The ALJ may ask about the skills required for jobs relating to pipe fitting and whether the hypothetical disabled person could complete those jobs.

The ALJ may ask the expert what types of jobs someone with a disability like yours would be able to perform, including which jobs could be done with certain accommodations, like assistive technology or rest breaks. The expert may state that they believe an individual with disabilities similar to yours could work certain jobs based on the facts presented by the ALJ. They do so by indicating the job title and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) code. The expert also informs the ALJ of the approximate number of those types of positions in your area and possibly an average wage.

If the expert testifies that someone with your hypothetical abilities can work in some capacity, then there is a strong possibility that the ALJ will deny your SSD benefits application.

How Can an SSD Benefits Attorney Help Me?

Your experienced social security disability attorney is your advocate and supporter during the SSD benefits appeals process. They can present information on your behalf that could affect the type of questions the ALJ asks the expert witness or specific questions they ask. Your lawyer may also cross-examine the expert witness once the ALJ finishes asking questions.

Challenging the expert vocational witness’s testimony and introducing your specific limitations may be critical to winning your case. The ALJ places a lot of weight on the expert’s testimony and may rule against you if you cannot counter the testimony. An experienced attorney at Bruce L. Weider, P.C. can help potentially prepare strong evidence that can counter the vocational expert testimony. 

Learn More About Your Legal Rights From an Experienced Michigan Social Security Disability Benefits Lawyer

The implications of vocational expert testimony in a Social Security Disability benefits case cannot be overstated. Without a skilled legal advocate to help you substantiate your claim and properly introduce evidence specific to your claim, the expert’s testimony could lead to your case being denied by the ALJ.

Social Security Disability claims can be difficult to get approved. The experienced and compassionate legal team at Bruce L. Weider, P.C., can help you understand your legal rights. As dedicated SSD claims attorneys, our legal team can help you understand if you have a strong case for your SSD application and appeal a denial before the ALJ. Call us today at (734) 485-0535 for a consultation about your claim.

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