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What does a ‘vocational expert’ do at an SSDI hearing?

Previously, this blog touched on the basic process that you could expect if your claim for Social Security Disability Insurance or SSDI or Supplemental Security Income or SSI benefits is denied, and you decide to appeal. You may recall that the third step of the process, after initial application and request for reconsideration be the Social Security Administration, is a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge or ALJ.

Additionally, the timeframes involved in getting a hearing date, which vary from place to pace in Ohio, was also discussed. If you have filed an appeal with the SSA, you will receive a notice of when and where your hearing will be. This notice may mention that a vocational expert will be present at the hearing. So, what does this mean?

Vocational experts are people used by the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review or ODAR, which is the arm of the government that handles disability hearings, to give testimony in front of the ALJ regarding your ability to work. The vocational expert is supposed to have knowledge regarding the skill level and mental and physical requirements of various occupations, the characteristics of places where people work, how many jobs are available in the area for a given profession and how skills can be transferred from job to job.

He or she can give factual and expert opinion testimony for the ALJ to consider. Generally, the ALJ will ask the vocational expert a series of questions based upon a hypothetical set of characteristics that mirror those of the person asking for benefits. The vocational expert may well give his or her opinion as to whether your functional limitations prevent you from doing your previous work or transferring your skills to a new job. As such, the expert may play a large role in the ultimate disposition of the case.

As the applicant, you or your representative may be able to ask questions of the vocational expert as well. As you might imagine, an experienced disability attorney may know what kind of questions are more likely to help your case. Anyone who has received notice of an SSDI hearing that will have a vocational expert present may want to consider seeking legal guidance so he or she can make informed decisions in their situation.