What is the role of the Vocational Expert?
The claimant will testify first. Once they testify regarding the symptoms that keep them from working, the judge will ask the vocational expert some questions about the past relevant work of the claimant. The judge will ask the vocational expert to define the work in terms of exertion and skill level: past relevant work that has been done in the last 15 years and at SGA – which stands for ‘substantial gainful activity’ level.
The vocational expert is not someone who works at the social security office. They are private hires placed in the job. They will give the DOT (Dictionary of Occupational Titles) number, an outdated publishing produced by the government that lists thousands of jobs. The judge will first ask, “Based on the limitation, can this person do any of their past relevant work?” The next question will be, “Are there other jobs out there the person can do?” This can be tricky because you have to consider education level, additional skills from other jobs, and if those skills are transferable to easier work.
The vocational expert is critical because their answers will determine if the person is found disabled or not. When a claim goes to a hearing it is important that you have a skilled social security lawyer that makes sure you get the best out of the case and that knows how to deal with the vocational expert.
One of the reasons you want someone experienced in disability law is because we will know what is important for the vocational expert to understand about the use of each body part. For example, if your hands are the body part that have been injured and your past work was in a position that had a lot of typing and you can no longer do that, it will eliminate other jobs with extreme use of your hands.