A lot of claimants are scared by the presence of a Vocational Expert at their disability hearing. It is understandable that claimants are worried about every aspect of their disability hearing, and Vocational Experts are no exception. However, the mere presence of a Vocational Expert is not in and of itself something to be scared of.
Vocational Experts are present at the hearing to provide testimony regarding two main things: (1) classifying any work that you have done in the past fifteen (15) years; and (2) identifying any work that would be available to a hypothetical person with limitations which the judge lists. The Vocational Expert can also answer any questions which the judge or your attorney may have regarding the particular demands of a job.
The Vocational Expert does this based on government documents recognized by the Social Security Administration, namely, The Dictionary of Occupational Titles, The Selected Characteristics of Occupations, Department of Labor statistics, and his professional experience. When the Vocational Expert testifies, it is likely that you will not fully understand his testimony as it is replete with codes and numbers which are not explained at the hearing.
Essentially, the Vocational Expert's testimony goes as follows:
The judge starts by asking the Vocational Expert if he has had any personal or professional contact with the claimant. The judge then asks that if the Vocational Expert's testimony differs or conflicts with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, that the Vocational Expert inform the judge of the conflict and the basis for it.
The judge will then ask the Vocational Expert to describe the claimant's past work based on the testimony at the hearing and the documents in the claimant's Social Security file. The Vocational Expert will do this by classifying the work according to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). The DOT provides a short description of all occupations and identifies them with a nine-digit DOT code. The Vocational Expert will list the jobs held by the claimant, provide the DOT code, then classify these jobs by exertional level and skill level. Again, these pieces of information may mean nothing to you, but they provide valuable information for your attorney.
The judge may or may not follow up this testimony by asking the Vocational Expert a series of hypothetical questions. Instead of saying, "Can the claimant perform the following work?" the judge will create a hypothetical claimant and impose limitations similar to the claimant's, and then ask the Vocational Expert if that hypothetical person could perform the claimant's past work or any work in the national economy.
After the judge has finished with his line of hypothetical questions, then your attorney may or may not ask additional hypothetical questions.
While the Vocational Expert's testimony is very important in a disability hearing, the Vocational Expert does not decide your case. The judge will review the records in your file, your testimony and the testimony of the Vocational Expert and determine which hypothetical, if any, is supported by the record. He can then rely on that portion of the Vocational Expert's testimony in determining your case. That means that even though the Vocational Expert testified that there were no jobs which a hypothetical person in a similar position as you could perform in response to questioning, he may still find that you are not disabled and vice versa.
However, you have nothing to worry about because even though the Vocational Expert's testimony seems to be relatively complicated, the good news is…if you have an attorney, they will handle the Vocational Expert for you.