Vocational Experts: Can They Help Your Disability Case?

by Editorial Board on November 4, 2010 · 0 comments

in Winning Disability Benefits,Social Security Hearings,Past Relevant Work (Step 4),Vocational or Work Issues

Vocational Experts (VEs) are intended to be impartial experts, meaning they are not out to prove or disprove your case.   Some VEs are actually independent.  They state their opinion and stick to it.  Other VEs let disability judges affect their testimony.  Judges can make it clear whether they want the VE to help them award or deny disability benefits.  Giving the judge what they want can allow the VE to avoid a conflict with the judge.

The key is to use the VE in your case as best you can.  Even VEs who seem opposed to your case can end up helping you.  A disability attorney who knows how to use the Dictionary of Occupations Titles and how to skillfully cross examine a VE to discredit them.  Once their testimony is discredited the judge must award disability benefits or find some other, more difficult way to deny the case.

VEs give testimony about how many problems an employer will tolerate.  For instance, if your medical conditions cause problems with following instructions and maintaining a steady work pace, will you be able to keep a particular job?  If you ask the same question to two different VEs you could easily get two different answers.

You and your disability representative have a right to question the VE if they give testimony to the judge.  There are ways to make those questions more effective.  A foundation should be laid.  This is done by pointing to medical evidence and testimony that supports the question.  Also, the question should contain specific limitations.  A good question to a VE sounds something like this: “Sue testified that she cannot pay attention long enough to understand a 30 minute T.V. program.  She could only recall 2 out of 4 words in her examination on June 5, 2010.  If, in addition to the other limitations already stated, a person can’t maintain attention for 30 minutes at a time, can they sustain work?”

Additionally, the questions can be asked in a way that invites the VE to help your case by appealing to their experience and expertise.  VEs are paid to do hearings because of their knowledge of work-related issues.  They don’t react well to questions that appear to attack that experience and expertise.  And so a carefully worded question can get helpful testimony and keep the VE from becoming defensive.

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