Are Vocational Experts Helpful in an ALJ Case?

Before even addressing how helpful a vocational expert is, a definition of the term may be helpful. A vocational expert (VE) is a witness that is called to testify at a disability hearing. A VE knows the labor market and understands what physical and mental demands are required by different job opportunities.

So where does a VE come into the picture you might ask? First of all let me explain exactly what a judge must prove before making a determination on a Social Security Disability case. When making a determination, the judge goes through three steps.

  1. First, the judge must understand the impairments or medical problems you have. An impairment is any kind of physical or emotional diagnosis based on medical tests or findings.
  2. Secondly, after learning of your impairments, the judge will then evaluate your limitations. A limitation is how a medical problem affects your ability to work. For example, a bad back would be an impairment, but problems sitting or standing would be a limitation.
  3. Lastly, once the judge knows your impairments and understands your limitations, the judge must then decide what restrictions keep you from being able to work full time. In a way, the judge is trying to determine if there is a job that will work around your limitations. This is where the VE comes in. The VE will act as an expert witness that understands the current labor market to help the judge make this determination.

As you can see, the VE’s opinion about how restrictive your limitations are in a job setting is critical to formulate the judge’s opinion. An experienced social security disability attorney will cross-examine the VE to ensure that the impact of every single work restriction or limitation is considered. Many times a person might have several different medical problems. When considered separately, each one might not be disabling. When considered in combination, all job options are eliminated. In essence, your attorney should make sure to ask the VE the right questions because it can make all the difference.

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