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What Is a Vocational Expert and Why Is One Present at Your Disability Hearing?

If you've applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and received an initial rejection or denial of your claim, you have the right to request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

Following an initial claim denial of the SSDI disability application, a claimant may request a hearing in order to appeal a disability denial. Your case is then transferred from your local Social Security office to a hearing location in your region for a decision by an ALJ. This process may take two years or more and a claimant may be required to travel to the hearing location. Sometimes, the testimony of a vocational expert is needed to tip the scales in the favor of the Social Security Disability applicant.

What Exactly is a VE?

A vocational expert is also known as a VE. In the Social Security Disability Insurance hearing venue, they are considered experts in their field(s), which may include but are not limited to:

  • Vocational rehab
  • Vocational capacity (capacity to complete work)
  • As an expert in the cost of labor replacement
  • As an expert in earning capacity
  • As an expert able to provide data and proof of lost ability to complete or perform common household tasks or activities of daily living

A vocational expert has the expertise and background needed to evaluate your ability to do your job at work or at home. These evaluations offer direct information to the judge regarding limitations of your ability to earn a living and buttress medical documentation regarding the seriousness or longevity of a disabling medical condition.

At the SSDI hearing, the vocational expert may testify on money you earned before the onset injury or medical condition and resulting disability. The expert testifies as to the type of work that you were capable of engaging in prior to your injury or disability. In some cases, a vocational expert may review more than 10 years of your previous work history and capabilities.

When Does the Vocational Expert Need to Testify?

A vocational expert may be called upon to testify at your Social Security Disability Insurance hearing if certain questions have not been adequately answered through required documentation and testimonials from the claimant, his or her doctors, or other sources. A vocational expert does not take either side in the case, but relates specific facts regarding the case without bias.

Most Social Security Disability Insurance hearings proceed without testimony from a vocational expert, but their presence may be indicated in both simple and complex case scenarios. Vocational experts are not employees or agents of the Social Security Administration and are considered independent parties whose obligation is to maintain objectivity and impartiality in a hearing.

In a growing number of cases, a vocational expert’s job is to answer specific questions of the Administrative Law Judge regarding prior and future capabilities of an individual in regard to their ability to work. In many cases, a vocational expert may prove more beneficial in an SSDI hearing than a medical expert may because they have adequate amounts of information regarding an individual's past capabilities and work history, which often help a judge make a decision regarding a beneficiary's claim.

If you are wondering how the services of a vocational expert will impact your Social Security Disability claim, you may want to consider discussing your case with a qualified Social Security Disability lawyer or advocate.