During Social Security disability hearings, the Social Security Administration (SSA) often calls on vocational experts to help the administrative law judge reach a determination. Specifically, these experts help identify whether a claimant from Alpharetta would be able to perform any available jobs or whether the claimant is totally disabled and should be receiving disability benefits.

It is not uncommon for vocational experts at SSDI hearings to state that there is “other work” a claimant could perform and that benefits should therefore not be paid. However, the opinion of the vocational expert is just that, and it may be refuted in the hearing.

Challenging a vocational expert’s determination at an Alpharetta SSDI hearing requires certain preparation in order to succeed, though. To that end, many claimants find it helpful to work with an experienced Social Security disability hearing attorney.

The Role of the Vocational Expert

In order to meet the SSA’s qualifications to receive disability benefits, applicants must suffer a total disability that renders them unable to perform any “substantial gainful activity.” As part of the process of determining applicant eligibility, the SSA’s Office of Hearings Operations employs outside disability expert witnesses, including vocational professionals, to review evidence and testify at hearings regarding an applicant’s ability to work.

The vocational expert at an SSDI hearing will answer questions from the administrative law judge, as well as questions from the applicant or their disability attorney, based on the Residual Functional Capacity Assessment (RFC) they previously completed and submitted to the judge. Unfortunately, although vocational experts in and around Georgia are supposedly brought in to provide impartial testimony, they often answer in a way that supports the SSA’s earlier determination that an applicant is able to engage in paid employment.

Factors Considered by a Vocational Expert at a Disability Hearing

Because a vocational expert at an SSDI hearing provides an opinion regarding an applicant’s ability to perform both their previous jobs and other potential jobs, they are supposed to be aware of numerous standards and conditions. According to SSA guidelines, vocational experts in Georgia and elsewhere should know and consider:

  • Current trends and conditions in the local labor market
  • Physical, mental, and skill requirements of different occupations
  • Transferability of work skills according to SSA regulatory requirements
  • SSA procedures and criteria for evaluating disability
  • Vocational reference sources used by the SSA

These factors are to be taken into consideration before issuing an opinion. If an expert either cannot or has not considered a particular factor, that deficiency could be challenged in the hearing.

How a Vocational Expert’s Determination May Be Challenged

If a vocational expert reports that a claimant is able to perform other jobs, the expert is supposed to provide the job title based on SSA vocational references and report on the number of positions in the Alpharetta area. There must be a significant number of jobs, and the applicant must be qualified to hold these jobs based on past experience.

A dedicated Social Security disability hearing lawyer could potentially challenge this opinion by asking the vocational expert how the limitations demonstrated through medical evidence affect the performance of the job or jobs described. More specifically, they could ask about the physical requirements of the job and be prepared to point out any requirements omitted by the expert. Skillful questioning may reveal that the disability substantially limits or prevents the performance of these jobs—if not on a permanent basis, then at least for a substantial period of time.

Assistance in Challenging a Vocational Expert’s Determination at an Alpharetta Social Security Disability Hearing

All applicants seeking Social Security disability benefits have unique backgrounds, different sets of skills, varying levels of experience, and different levels of disability. Vocational experts, by contrast, apply one set of knowledge to all the cases they consider. Just because a disability expert witness was able to show that one claimant had the ability to perform certain other jobs does not mean that this opinion holds true for other claimants they encounter.

Challenging a vocational expert’s determination at an Alpharetta Social Security disability hearing may be accomplished through many avenues, including challenging the expert’s understanding of job requirements, the limitations of the claimant, or the particular details of the claimant’s employment experience. An experienced SS disability attorney from our team may be able to provide valuable assistance in exploiting the weaknesses in a vocational expert’s determination, so call today.

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