Questioning the Vocational Expert in Disability Hearings
The testimony of the Vocational Expert (VE) is vital because the VE’s opinion about your client's ability to work usually determines the outcome of your case. Knowing the ins and outs of dealing with a VE is essential if you want to be successful at disability hearings.
Past Relevant WorkThe VE classifies each of the claimant's past relevant work (PRW) jobs to determine whether a claimant can do his/her past job(s) and, if not, what transferable skills he/she may have. Your claimant's testimony as to their prior work, skills, etc. are instrumental during the hearing. Pay close attention to the job title the VE uses for his/her past job, the way in which the VE describes the work he/she did, and how he or she describes the related position as it is listed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) to make sure that the correlation is accurate.
HypotheticalsIf the VE states the claimant can no longer do his/her PRW, the ALJ and attorney will ask a series of questions or "hypotheticals" based on the claimant's medical record and testimony to determine if there are other jobs that he/she can do. In the event the VE testifies that there is suitable work that the claimant can do, he or she must give the following: title of the job, the number of job positions in your area, the number assigned to the job in the DOT. If the VE says the claimant can use certain skills used at his/her past work to do other jobs, you will want to point out the differences in the jobs from the DOT and the prior work to help show that the claimant does not actually have the skills required by the DOT job, and accordingly, the claimant cannot do some or all of the jobs that the VE says he can still do.
Other jobs must exist in "Significant" NumbersThe other jobs the VE feels the claimant can perform must exist in "significant" numbers in the local and national economy. Neither the SSA nor any other court of law has ever defined the term "significant numbers", so it's difficult to challenge a VE on whether the number of jobs in the local and national economy constitutes a "significant" number. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for a VE to cite job numbers that have no factual basis, or are based on outdated reports. There are two approaches you take, though. One, if the job numbers cited by the VE come from only one or two regions, the ALJ should not consider them to be "significant" in the local or national economy. Two, you can question the VE attorney at the hearing as to how he or she determined the number to be "significant." This will, at the very least, provide some testimony from the VE that can be attacked further on appeal. Nevertheless, if you are denied disability after the hearing based on your ability to do other jobs, you should review the jobs named by the VE and research whether the positions, in fact, exist in significant numbers at either the national or local level. Although not every judge will overturn a denial based on this, it is worth the effort, because SSA judges generally do care that there is a factual basis for their decisions.