While the testimony of a vocational expert may not make or break your case for disability benefits, it will have a major impact. A vocational expert is a paid expert witness hired by the Social Security Administration and will be present at almost every disability hearing. The vocational expert is supposed to provide an impartial expert opinion.

At your hearing, you will testify about your disability and your work history. The Administrative Law Judge who will be deciding your case will rely on the vocational expert’s knowledge about job availability in the current labor market and what specific skills are required to perform certain jobs. The judge will ask a series of questions to the vocational expert about your condition and what work you might be able to do. These are called hypotheticals. Here’s an example of a hypothetical:  In the case of a person with spinal stenosis, the judge might ask: “What jobs, if any, could a person of the same age, education, and with the same work history as the claimant be able to do if he or she could lift no more than 10 pounds on a regular basis, could stand no more than 30 minutes, and needed to lay down periodically throughout the day.”

In response to the hypotheticals, if the vocational expert believes that there are jobs you can perform—whether that is your past work or a different type of work—he or she will tell the judge the job titles, their code numbers and how many positions—including filled positions—there are in the general area where you live.

You and your attorney also have the right to ask the expert hypotheticals. Here is where a skilled disability attorney can be a valuable asset; he or she can ask questions on your behalf. Often your attorney will include limitations that the judge may have left out. Because of their experience and knowledge of Social Security law, disability attorneys will know the best strategies to rule out the jobs that the vocational expert stated that someone with your limitations could do.

However, even if the vocational expert’s opinion is favorable to your case—that your limitations prevent you from returning to your previous job and you are unable to switch to some other kind of work— that is only half the battle. Similarly, even if the expert’s opinion is unfavorable, this does not mean that your case will be denied.  In the end, to win, the judge must believe that your limitations are as severe as you and your doctors say they are. Your testimony, backed up with detailed medical records, documentation from your medical providers, and opinions of your doctors, are equally important in winning your fight for disability benefits.

As you can see, winning a disability hearing is not as simple as showing up and explaining your medical problems. Therefore, it is worthwhile to have an advocate in your corner with significant experience to review your claim and offer you the best possible advice for your unique situation. You can call Cuddigan Law for a free evaluation of your disability claim. We are here to help you get the benefits you have earned.

Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska