If your claim for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSDI or “disability benefits”) is denied, you may proceed to an administrative hearing. You may not understand why the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) asks the Vocational Expert a series of hypothetical questions at the hearing. However, your disability claim may depend on the answers to those questions.
Let’s see what it’s all about.
THE ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING
The purpose of the administrative hearing is to allow the ALJ to take a “fresh look” at the medical evidence supporting your disability claim and to hear testimony about your condition(s) to determine if you are eligible for disability benefits.
The ALJ will review the medical records in your file and will ask you questions about your treatments, work history, limitations, and your disability application. Once the ALJ has a solid understanding from your testimony and from your counsel’s representations, how severe your condition is and how it keeps you from working full-time, near the end of the hearing, a Vocational Expert (“VE”) will testify. The VE is a person who is an expert in employment duties. The VE knows what jobs exist in the market, where those jobs are, and how an employer would accommodate persons with various physical or mental disabilities for each of those jobs.
The VE’s testimony helps the ALJ determine whether you could go back to your most recent job, and if not, whether there is any other work you could do.
HYPOTHETICAL QUESTIONS REFLECT ON YOUR DISABILITY CLAIM
The VE is not a “perception” witness. In other words, the VE is not at your hearing to testify about anything that he “saw” or “heard”. Instead, as an expert in employment duties, the VE will first testify as to his or her opinion about how specific limitations would impact the performance of your “Prior Relevant Work” (whatever that was).
If the VE says that due to the limitations on a hypothetical individual’s ability to work, he or she believes that the hypothetical individual could not return to your Prior Relevant Work on a full time, continuing basis, 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, then the next thing the ALJ has to decide is whether there is any “other work” that a hypothetical individual could do given your age, experience, the local economy, and your medical limitations.
To figure out whether there is any “other work” you could do, the ALJ will ask the VE hypothetical questions. A hypothetical question is one that elicits expert analysis from the VE by having him apply his knowledge to a certain set of facts. Typically, the ALJ will begin by describing a hypothetical person who has some, but not all, of the same limitations you have, based on your disability claim. Then the ALJ will pose one or two more hypotheticals in which the hypothetical person has additional limitations — getting closer and closer to your actual situation. The VE has to answer whether there are any potential jobs that each hypothetical person could do.
Because the ALJ will rely on the VE’s answers to the hypothetical questions when deciding whether or not to award you SSDI benefits, it is important that you have experienced counsel represent you at the hearing. Experienced disability counsel can present information to the ALJ in a way that will shape the hypothetical questions that the ALJ poses to the VE and can cross-examine the VE to ensure that his opinion is professionally sound and based on an accurate hypothetical. Experienced counsel can also ask her own questions of the VE if the ones the ALJ asked don’t accurately reflect your limitations and restrictions.
EXCELLENT REPRESENTATION FOR YOUR DISABILITY CLAIM
Your best chance for a successful outcome at hearing is to have experienced and knowledgeable counsel. At the Parmele Law Firm, we handle only social security disability cases.
We have offices in Springfield, Cape Girardeau, Columbia, Jefferson City, Joplin, and other cities in Missouri, as well as offices in Kansas, Illinois and even in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. We offer free consultations and we do not get paid unless you win your case. Connect with us on Facebook or LinkedIn, or contact us today to set up your free appointment.