Vocational Expert FAQ: Everything you need to know about the VE

You have received notice of your hearing date from the SSA. You are going through all the paperwork when you come across a piece of correspondence indicating that a vocational expert (VE) witness will be present at your hearing.  ‘What is a vocational expert witness?,’ you may wonder. In case you have never heard of the VE, you have come to the right place. Below find everything you need to know about the vocational expert witness.

What is a vocational expert?

In September 1962, the vocational expert program was established. Since then, vocational experts have testified in approximately 25,000 disability cases at the appellate level. In a disability hearing, the expertise of a vocational expert is customarily used and is the result of an Administrative Law Judge’s request. In fact, vocational experts (VEs) appear more in disability hearings than medical experts (MEs). Vocational experts are professionals with vocational expertise who evaluate residual functional capacity ratings to ascertain if there are jobs in the national economy that a disability applicant can do. In essence, vocational experts testify about work abilities. A vocational expert is not an agent of the Social Security Administration. As an independent party, vocational experts are to remain completely objective and impartial in expressing their opinions.

What is the role of the vocational expert?

Incorporating their knowledge and experience, vocational experts are able to provide an overview of the types of work a claimant has performed over time. In most cases, vocational experts review fifteen years of an individual’s work history.

Why is a vocational expert needed to testify?

Most often, the Administrative Law Judge solicits the testimony of a vocational expert because he/she has questions that need to be answered and feels that the claimant’s testimony alone will not be sufficient to provide the answers needed. Having a vocational expert testify should not be inferred as being good or bad. Again, a vocational expert’s presence and testimony often indicates the personal preference of the ALJ. While some judges rarely request the appearance of a vocational expert, some do regardless of how clear-cut and simple a case may be.

How is ‘work’ defined? Are there different levels of ‘work’?

Yes, the types of work are broken down into four categories. They are as follows:

Heavy work – having the ability to lift or carry one hundred pounds occasionally and fifty pounds frequently, and to stand and walk six to eight hours per day.

Medium work – having the ability to lift or carry fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently, and to stand or walk six to eight hours per day.

Light work – having the ability to lift or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently and to stand or walk six to eight hours per day; or,

Sedentary work – having the ability to lift no more than ten pounds at a time and occasionally lift or carry small articles. Sedentary work usually refers to work that is done while sitting. The claimant must also have the ability to sit up to two hours out of an eight-hour day to be able to perform sedentary work.

In considering the above descriptions, it is important for the disability applicant to understand the meanings and usage of the words ‘occasionally’ and ‘frequently.’ Occasionally is the ability to lift or carry less than one-third of the time in an eight-hour period. Frequently is an individual’s ability to perform at the same level at least one-third of the time in an eight-hour day.

What types of training and qualifications are required of a Vocational Expert?

Different from medical experts, which are an additional source of experts available to aid Administrative Law Judges in rendering decisions, the training and qualifications of a vocational expert are varied. While some vocational experts may have a background in psychology, others may have experience in vocational education, counseling or rehabilitation.

Is the disability claimant privileged to communications between the Administrative Law Judge and Vocational Expert?

Yes, claimants and their attorney are both able and should receive a copy of any written correspondence between the vocational expert and the Administrative Law Judge assigned to the applicant’s case.

Are vocational experts subject to cross-examination?

Any witness who is called by an opposing side and presents testimony is subject to cross-examination. This process affords the disability attorney to ask new questions or to seek clarification on answers already interjected. Vocational experts are no exception to the cross-examination rule. Since a vocational expert has proffered an opinion as to an applicant’s job capabilities, he/she is subject to cross-examination.

Is there any way to know whether a Vocational Expert will be present at my hearing?

A couple of weeks prior to a hearing, your attorney and/or representative should receive a witness notice. The witness notice will list all individuals the Administrative Law Judge has requested testify in your matter. If your attorney has not received a witness list, your attorney should call the ALJ’s office and ask about experts. A word of caution, claimants should never personally contact any expert witness.

When do vocational experts normally testify during the hearing?

The vocational expert can obtain information primarily in three different ways. First, information is gathered when reviewing the claimant’s file prior to hearing. Second, the vocational expert obtains additional information through the oral testimony of the claimant as well as other individuals who testify during the proceedings. The third avenue and probably one of the most important means in which a vocational expert accumulates information is through observing the disability applicant during the hearing. Observation may yield clues regarding appearance, responsiveness, general intelligence, communication skills, and other claimant characteristics. It is during this time that vocational experts will note any physical capacities, such as the use of limbs or prostheses, or physical endurance. As a result, the vocational expert is usually the last to testify.

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Jonathan Ginsberg represents Social Security disability claimants in Georgia. In practice for over 23 years, Jonathan publishes a widely known disability blog, a podcast and several disability web sites. In 2004, Jonathan published a "how to" book about Social Security disability called the Disability Answer Guide. Jonathan lives with his wife and 2 children in Atlanta.

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  1. If the judge has a VE testify at your hearing and he says there is no jobs that you could do, for every hypothetical question. Can the judge still say that you can still do certain jobs or is he forced to use the VE’s testimony.

  2. @ my hearing the Vocational Expert had nothing to say when the judge asked him.
    is that good

  3. I have a really important question regarding my hearing on November 30. The judge asked the VE six differnt scenerios. I don’t remember the first four in particular, but the VE said I would be able to do certain jobs for these four sceneriosl. The fifth one regarded what if the claimant had to lay vertical for up to 15 minutes 3 times a day. The VE hesitated and then the judge suggested to her “What if she could lay in her car?’ the the VE said yes. I was crying and kind of shaking my head no a little bit. But the last question was what if the claimant missed a day of work every week, she said no i would not be able to work. My attorney had told me he would cross examine the VE if she stated I could work, but he didn’t do that. I only had about 30 seconds to talk to him afterward and asked him why he didn’t cross examine her and he told me the last scenerio was enough. I am not conviced of this and wanted an expert opinion. I have Fibro/CFS and depression severly since late 2008

  4. During my second hearing last month, and during the part of the ‘hypothetical’ questions, the VE stated that there were less than 10% of ‘these’ jobs in the nation available that I could do. Can you explain this to me a little more in detail? What exactly does this mean and is it a good thing in my favor? This process of filing for disability benefits is extremely stressful and taking a serious toll on my health. Thank you.

  5. IS THE VOCATIONAL EXPERT REQUIRED TO MEET WITH THE CLAIMANT AND INTERVIEW THE CLAIMANT PRIOR TO RENDERING A DECISION REGARDING THE CLAIMANT’S RESIDUAL FUNCTIONAL CAPACITY?

  6. No – you are not supposed to have any contact with the vocational witness prior to your hearing. The VE testimony should be based on the claims file and testimony only.

  7. Hi just had my hearing on 9/24/2012.Was not sure if i won my case or i lost my case.The ALJ didn’t ask any questions to the VE.And the ALJ didn’t let my lawyer give his closing argument.My lawyer said everything went well and everything was in my favored to win my case.The case lasted about 30mins just wanted to know is this normal for the ALJ not to ask the VE anything and not let my lawyer give a closing argument.All the ALJ said i heard enough thank you for coming have a nice day.

  8. Every judge has different procedures. If your attorney knows this judge and believes that you won based on the events that you describe then you most likely won.

  9. When i recently had my hearing and the alj was asking the vocational witness about jobs i could do, she stated with medicines i take and medical restrictions there were none. The judge ended the hearing and told me that my attorney could explain what just happened and that his decision would be coming in about a month. My attorney told me that we had just pretty much won. I recently learned they denied my case and said that i could be a stock checker. i have applied for over 400 jobs and no one will hire me due to my medications or medical conditions. So what happens now?

  10. I just had my hearing and the vocational expert said their were no jobs I could do. my lawyer said it went well what do you think

  11. My husband recently had his hearing, but the ALJ never questioned the vocational expert any questions at all. Is this a good sign?