In most Social Security disability hearings, judges call on expert witnesses called “vocational experts” to help them evaluate your capacity for working. As a general rule, Social Security defines “disability” in terms of a claimant’s ability to perform the tasks of a simple, entry level job, therefore it makes sense that the judge will need to identify the specific activity limitations that arise from your medical and/or psychological problems and he will need a way to determine if these limitations impact your capacity for work.
Judges make this evaluation by posing “hypothetical questions” to the vocational expert witness. A typical question may sound something like this:
Mr. Vocational Expert, I want you to assume the following about a hypothetical person who is the same age as our claimant, with the same educational background and the same work history. This person is limited to light work with the following limitations:
- he can sit for 45 minutes at a time, then needs to stand and stretch for up to 10 minutes
- he can sit for a total of 2 hours during a day
- he can stand for 6 out of 8 hours during a day but should have the ability to change position at will
- he should avoid jobs that require him to climb ladders, ropes & scaffolds
- he can occasionally bend, stoop, crouch and crawl
- he can lift 10 lbs. frequently and 20 lbs. occasionally
- he should not use his left, non-dominant arm for pushing and pulling
- he should avoid dusty environments and extreme heat and cold
Based on these limitations, can our hypothetical person return to the claimant’s past work? If not, are there other jobs in the regional or national economy that he can do.
Vocational witnesses will refer to a statistical guide called the Dictionary of Occupational Titles to identify jobs that the hypothetical person could do. Jobs in the economy are classified as:
- very heavy
Jobs are also
Generally the more limitations contained in the hypothetical question fewer jobs will remain. Your goal, as the claimant, is to convince the judge to accept enough significant limitations in your capacity to work that the vocational witness will answer “I can identify no jobs that a person with those limitations could perform.”
In case you are interested, the sample hypothetical question noted above would eliminate a significant number of jobs but I don’t think it would eliminate all jobs. A person with these limitations could perform simple, entry-level, sit down jobs with a sit/stand option. Examples of simple, entry-level jobs include:
- hand wrapper
- garment sorter
- textile inspector
- surveillance system monitor
How would we make this a winning case? That will be the subject of my next blog post.