Vocational Experts’ Role in Determining Disability for Social Security

Many who have been denied disability benefits by the Social Security Administration (SSA) exercise their right to appeal the initial decision. Often those who have appeal hearings scheduled receive notice that a vocational expert witness will be testifying at the hearing but are left to wonder who this witness is and what his or her purpose is in determining whether Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits should be approved.

What Is a Vocational Expert?

A vocational expert witness testifies at Social Security disability appeal hearings at the request of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The vocational expert witness analyzes the residual functioning capacity assessment and determines whether jobs exist in the national economy that an SSD applicant can perform.

A residual functioning capacity assessment is the form that the Disability Determination Services (DDS) team completes when assessing whether an applicant qualifies for disability benefits to figure out what kind of work an applicant can still do, given his or her limitations. The DDS team looks at the applicant's medical records and other information the applicant submits to fill out the residual functioning capacity assessment.

Vocational experts can come from a variety of professional backgrounds. Some have psychology degrees, while others have vocational counseling or rehabilitative training. The vocational expert is not an agent of the SSA. The vocational expert is supposed to be totally independent and offer an objective view of the applicant's abilities to do various kinds of work.

The Role of the Vocational Expert

The vocational expert witness testifies at the appeal hearing about his or her assessment of what an applicant can and cannot do in an employment setting. In order to do this, the vocational expert will review the applicant's file, giving special attention to the applicant's work history for the 15 years prior to the application. The vocational expert also may use observations of the applicant as well as any other testimony during the hearing to make his or her assessment about the applicant's abilities. In order to give the vocational expert time to make these observations, he or she is often last to testify at the hearing.

A Michigan SSD Attorney Can Help

Those preparing for a Michigan Social Security appeals hearing can benefit greatly from the assistance of an experienced SSD lawyer. An attorney can aid a person seeking to appeal the SSA's denial of Social Security disability benefits in a hearing through preparation for the types of questions that may be asked at the hearing, information about the procedure of a hearing and by questioning witnesses on the claimant's behalf to ensure that the ALJ gets the clearest picture possible about the extent to which the claimant's disability impacts his or her life.

Some might not be aware that an attorney assisting with a Social Security claim only receives compensation if the claim is successful, so using the services of a lawyer for an appeal hearing is an affordable option. If you are disabled and need Social Security benefits, do not hesitate to contact a lawyer who can help you in whatever stage of the application or appeal process you are in.