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Blog
Jun
15
2016

The Role of the Vocational Expert at Your Baltimore Social Security Disability Hearing

When your Baltimore Social Security disability hearing is finally held, there will be several other people in the room with you.  Your attorney and the administrative law judge will be there, which is not surprising.  Usually there will be at least a third person there, a vocational expert.  Knowing the vocational expert’s role in your hearing can be helpful in understanding the one part of your hearing that is not specifically directed at you.

A vocational expert is interviewed by the administrative law judge to provide information about the availability of jobs in a particular region based upon certain physical and mental requirements to perform the required tasks.  Your judge will interview a vocational expert to satisfy the government’s obligation to show that there are a large enough number of jobs in your area that you might be capable of doing, at least in theory.  The vocational expert will testify about the capabilities of a “hypothetical individual” with a series of limitations relevant to your physical and mental impairments rather than just talking about what you are capable of doing.  This odd wording exists so that the vocational expert cannot be accused of giving a medical opinion about your limitations, which they usually lack any kind of background or training to do.

When speaking with the vocational expert, the administrative law judge will ask them questions about a “hypothetical individual” that is capable of performing certain types of tasks and has certain types of limitations.  Based on the limitations outlined by the administrative law judge, the vocational expert will review their information sources.  The vocational expert will name a series of jobs and then state a number of that type of job available in your area.  You may notice that the jobs listed are all in hundreds or thousands.  This is because the vocational expert’s information only has a fixed number of jobs.  The vocational expert takes this fixed number and multiplies it by a number that approximates the number of jobs your area has compared to the rest of the country.  The administrative law judge will usually ask about several combinations of limitations.  The judge does this so that she or he can apply the appropriate testimony after deciding on the combination of limitations the judge believes will limit your ability to work.

You will probably notice that the jobs listed by the vocational expert may sound strange.  They may even sound like they involve tasks that no one has done for years.  You would be right.  The reason the job titles and descriptions the vocational expert will talk about are so odd is because the vocational expert must use a list of jobs from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. The Dictionary of Occupational Titles is a publication published by the U.S. Department of Labor defining different types of work from 1938 through the 1990’s.  Since the Dictionary of Occupational Titles has not been updated for over fifteen years and includes a number of positions that have not been updated since at least 1977, the jobs it lists are going to be extremely old.  Some occupations, like “newspaper article clipper,” will be completely archaic due to the advancements in technology.  Other jobs may just not match your region well and could be based on industries centered elsewhere.

It is unclear whether the age of this list helps or hurts your Social Security disability claim.  On one hand, a number of the jobs listed would no longer exist as they are done by machines or are no longer needed in significant numbers.  On the other hand, a job listing that more accurately included work that could be done using a computer might likely make social security disability benefit grants harder to receive.  This is because many computer-based jobs offer employees a greater ability to work in isolation from other people and could allow you to sit and stand at will and make related postural adjustments.

Your attorney’s response to the vocational expert’s testimony will depend on your attorney’s experience and how they think the administrative judge views your case.  Many times, your attorney will ask the vocational expert about how certain limitations would decrease the number of available jobs.  These questions are asked to encourage the administrative law judge to conclude that there are not enough jobs available for a person with comparable limitations.  These questions will usually indicate that your physical or mental impairments are either more severe than the judge stated, or will include certain limitations that the judge might not have included in their questions.  Some attorneys will never ask the vocational expert questions.  This may be based on their concern that further questions would not help your claim, their determination from the judge’s behavior that your claim probably will or will not be accepted, or other reasons based upon their style and experience.

You should not interrupt the administrative law judge when the judge is speaking with the vocational expert.  You also should not distract your attorney during this time.  Your attorney needs to listen to the questions the judge asks and the vocational expert’s responses in order to ask their own questions to the vocational expert next.  By asking the vocational expert questions based upon the vocational expert’s previous testimony, your attorney may substantially improve your chances of being found disabled.

The questions the judge asks the vocational expert may very well be about mental or physical capabilities that you cannot perform.  The vocational expert may discuss jobs that make no sense or that you cannot possibly work at ever, let alone on a sustainable basis.  Regardless, you should listen to what the judge and vocational expert are saying.  By allowing the administrative law judge and your attorney to speak with the vocational expert without interruption, you will help your claim and avoid giving the judge less reason to be sympathetic to your claims.

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