What is a Vocational Expert?

In many disability claims, vocational evidence becomes pivotal. What does this mean, and what can you do if it appears in your claim file?

Often vocational information is in a written report from a person who has never seen you, but simply has reviewed the record.
After a finding of medical disability, the question becomes whether you can do past work or any other work, perhaps at a lighter or sedentary level. A 55-year-old coal miner with a fifth grade education is in a different position than a 40-year-old with a graduate degree. You can still do some kind of work.

A vocational expert may be called to testify at a disability hearing. Vocational experts are trained to assess an individual’s age, education, and past work to determine “transferable” skills which would allow them to move into another job.A Judge usually calls a vocational expert when it is clear that an individual cannot return to the type of work performed in the past. The vocational expert is asked to indicate what jobs are available in the local or national economy, considering the claimant’s age, education, work experience, physical and mental limitations and “transferable” skills.

If the Judge determines that the claimant can still perform any kind of full-time work, disability may be denied. The issue is not whether a person could be hired for a particular job, but whether a person retains the capacity to perform any other type of work. If you used to be a brain surgeon and now you can only be a parking lot attendant, Social Security doesn’t call you disabled.

Social Security recognizes that as people age, the ability to adapt to new skills, tools and work settings diminishes. If pain and/or fatigue impose significant limitations, this can reduce the pool of available jobs. The vocational ex- pert should be cross-examined to determine if the claimant can fully perform the job suggested. Managing this is an important part of the work we do for you.

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