To obtain Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits you have to have a condition that prevents you from working – or a combination of conditions. To determine whether this is true, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will look at your education, vocational training, prior work experience, transferable job skills, age and ability to be retrained. They must also look at the labor market to determine what occupations are open to you within a reasonable geographical range.
This is what the vocational expert does. Often, it’s the vocational expert’s opinion that prevents valid claims from being approved. They may also be the number one witness for SSA at your Hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
How do you dispute the vocational expert’s opinion?
During the hearing, the vocational expert will often be asked to explain to the judge exactly how they came to their conclusions. It’s your attorney’s job to poke holes in their assertions by asking hypothetical questions that demonstrate exactly how flawed the analysis may be.
It’s important to remember that the vocational expert is dealing with theoretical job descriptions – not what the actual jobs entail. For example, maybe you were an x-ray nurse, but you now have serious back issues and arthritic knees.
In theory, your job may entail little more than making sure that patients are in the right spot on the x-ray table and pushing a few buttons. In practice, however, you may have to regularly lift heavy or mobility-impaired patients into position, and that involves not only massive strain on your back but also your knees.
It takes knowledge and experience to ask the right questions and unravel the assertions of a vocational expert. If your Social Security Disability claim has been denied, it may be time to find out more about the legal help that’s available.