Vocational Expert Testimony in a Social Security Disability Hearing
Vocational Expert testimony appears in almost every hearing involving Social Security disability benefits. A Vocational Expert (VE) is an independent contractor with the Social Security Administration who has special knowledge concerning the physical and mental requirements of jobs that exist in the national economy. In response to questions by the Administrative Law Judge, the VE gives his or her opinion about what jobs a claimant can perform given the limitations identified by the Administrative Law Judge. The VE’s opinion may determine the outcome of the case. Not realizing that VE testimony is often given based on unreliable facts, some Social Security lawyers frequently do not ask questions to the VE during a disability hearing.
VE testimony is often unreliable for two reasons. First, there currently are no credentials required to become a VE, nor is there standardized training or supervision amongst those chosen to become VEs. Although the VE is essential to the Social Security disability process, the methods used to reach conclusions are not uniform, allowing the testimony and the results to differ depending on the VE present during the hearing.
Another problem with the reliability of VE testimony is the required use of the United States Department of Labor’s Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). The DOT classifies jobs into occupations based on the similarities of the job’s requirements, and by regulation, is the required foundation upon which vocational testimony rests. However, the DOT was last modified over 25 years ago and was last updated in 1991. Many jobs listed in the DOT no longer exist, while some jobs are too new to exist in the archaic DOT. Because there is no standardized training, the methodologies used by VEs in assessing the DOT vary, leading to different outcomes that result from outdated information, lack of experience, and misuse of unproven methods. This is a known problem that the Social Security Administration and the Administrative Law Judges choose to ignore.
Because the VE and the DOT remain such an integral part of the Social Security disability process, a Social Security lawyer needs to be knowledgeable in the particulars of the DOT and understand how the VEs reach their conclusions. If the claimant’s attorney does not question the VE’s testimony during the hearing, the claimant’s right to later question the reasoning of the VE may be considered waived.
Your disability claim may turn on the testimony of the VE and the DOT. Contact an experienced Social Security disability attorney at Gardberg & Kemmerly, P.C. today at 251-343-1111 for a free case evaluation. Gardberg & Kemmerly, P.C. represents Social Security disability claimants in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and Louisiana at all levels of the disability process from initial application to appeals to Federal Court.