Social Security Disability Hearing: What is a Vocational Expert?

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Vocational expert testimony at a Social Security disability hearing

Vocational Expert Testimony in Social Security Disability Hearings

A vocational expert (VE) is an individual called by the Social Security Administration to testify as an impartial witness at your social security disability hearing. The VE at the hearing typically serves a few different functions at your hearing, including:

  1. Classifying your past work
  2. Identifying skills that are typically acquired in the types of jobs you may have performed
  3. Answering hypothetical questions from the judge about how certain limitations may affect a person’s ability to work.

How is the VE Questioned at My Social Security Disability Hearing?

It’s important to know that the VE is not testifying at the hearing to discuss your personal impairments or limitations, nor is she present to state whether she thinks you can or cannot work.  While the VE knows your work history, she does not have any information about your medical history, and she is not permitted to provide any assessments as to how you might be personally limited. At your Social Security disability hearing, she will simply answer the questions based strictly on the facts provided by the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), by indicating whether the hypothetical individual in the ALJ’s questions can perform any work given the described limitations. It is also important to remember that the ALJ will likely ask several different questions of the VE. Some questions may not have very many limits, while the questions after may build upon one another and may include significant functional restrictions. The ALJ will use the answers from the vocational expert when she goes back to make her decision. She will review your medical history, look over your testimony, and decide what limitations she believes you have. With those limitations, she can use the VE’s testimony to determine how you might be affected and whether your limitations would prevent you from working.