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What Are Vocational Experts and What Role Do They Play?

September 16, 2021 Disability

The process of applying for Social Security disability benefits can be confusing, as it often consists of several layers of review by different parties within the Social Security Administration (SSA) before a final decision is reached. A centerpiece of the Social Security disability application process is the disability hearing, where a judge questions the applicant to determine whether he or she is really disabled enough to not be able to work. In some cases, the judge will call a vocational expert to provide his or her opinion on the claimant’s condition, as our Baltimore Social Security disability lawyer explains. 

What Is a Vocational Expert? 

A vocational expert works for the SSA. During hearings, he or she provides expert opinion evidence that the judge will consider in making his or her decision. A vocational expert provides impartial fact and opinion evidence in cases where the judge must determine whether the claimant is capable of doing his or her previous work or transitioning to other work. According to the SSA, they are required to have the following attributes

  • Up-to-date knowledge of, and current experience with, industrial and occupational trends and local labor market conditions
  • An understanding of how the SSA makes determinations of disability 
  • Involvement in or knowledge of vocational counseling and the job placement of adult, handicapped workers into jobs
  • Knowledge of, and experience using, vocational reference sources the SSA has officially endorsed

In short, vocational experts are individuals who have extensive knowledge of the labor market, including the skill level and physical demands of various occupations, the characteristics of work settings, the existence of jobs within occupations, and the transferability of relevant work skills. 

The Role of Vocational Experts in Disability Hearings 

Vocational experts play a role that is similar to that of an expert witness in a judicial proceeding, only they are questioned primarily by the judge rather than the parties’ attorneys. Judges bring in vocational experts to help them determine whether the claimant is capable of doing the work he or she did before or whether he or she can transfer those work skills to another occupation. In most cases, judges frame their questions as hypotheticals. For example, the judge might ask, “Assume that an individual of the same age, education, and work experience as the claimant cannot sit for more than two hours — would he or she be able to perform the claimant’s previous work duties?” The vocational expert will then give his or her opinion. He or she may also suggest other occupations for the individual considered in the hypothetical. The claimant’s attorney may then pose his or her own questions to the vocational expert in an effort to counter opinions that are adverse to the claimant. 

Contact a Baltimore Social Security Disability Lawyer for More Information 

For more information about Social Security disability hearings and appeals — including best practices for handling vocational experts — please contact Baltimore Social Security disability lawyer Emmett B. Irwin by calling 443-839-0818 or using our online contact form.