The Role of the Vocational Expert at the Hearing

Clients are frequently confused about the role that the Vocational Expert (VE) plays at a hearing and even more confused by the examination of and the testimony of the VE. Essentially, the role of the VE at the hearing is to assist the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in clarifying the claimant’s past work and in identifying any other work that the claimant can perform in the national economy. The VE is an impartial expert witness, even though his or her fee is being paid by the Social security Administration.

A VE must be present to testify concerning any other work that might be available in significant numbers in the national economy and to identify skills, if any, that might be transferable to other jobs. Usually, the ALJ at the hearing poses hypothetical questions to the VE following completion of the claimant’s questioning. At times, depending on the medical evidence in the hearing file, there may be multiple hypotheticals. In his or her hypothetical questions, the ALJ will usually first use the work-related limitations detailed by Social Security in its medical review of the file. In addition, the ALJ will also include the limitations, if any, noted by the Social Security retained medical consultative evaluator who may have performed a limited, one-time personal evaluation of the claimant. If any jobs are identified, then the ALJ needs to go further and ask about all the limitations that are included in the medical record and whether or not there are any jobs. The claimant’s attorney or representative can also ask his or her own hypothetical questions using medical evidence or the claimant’s testimony regarding any additional limitations in order to narrow down or eliminate any identified potential jobs. If no jobs are identified or if jobs previously identified are eliminated by further questioning, then the claim has an excellent chance of being approved.

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