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What Does a Vocational Expert Do at a SSDI Hearing?

What Does a Vocational Expert Do at a SSDI Hearing?

This expert witness plays an important role at many SSDI hearings.

What Does a Vocational Expert Do at a SSDI Hearing?

Applying for benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) can be a complicated — and confusing — process. Like most government agencies, the SSA has its own set of rules, regulations, and procedures. This includes a special process for filing an appeal and going to a hearing.

Approximately 28% of applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are approved initially. This means that the majority of SSDI applications are denied. After a denial, your California disability benefits attorney can work with you to file a request for reconsideration. If this request is also denied, you can then ask for a SSDI hearing. At this hearing, a vocational expert may be present.

A vocational expert is a witness who is qualified as an expert by the SSA. Typically, they have college degrees and experience in the field of vocational rehabilitation. The SSA pays these witnesses, but a vocational expert is considered impartial. He or she will provide opinion evidence at an appeals hearing that will be considered by an administrative law judge (ALJ) when they make a decision about a disability.

At the hearing, a vocational expert will typically be called by an ALJ to provide evidence about whether a claimant can do their previous work or any other job. The vocational expert will be given the evidence/exhibits from the case as well as the claimant’s past work history to review before the hearing. During the hearing, the ALJ will ask the expert a question, which will be framed as a hypothetical. For example, the ALJ might ask, “Assume that an individual has the same education, age and work experience as the claimant…”. From there, the ALJ will add limitations to the hypothetical, such as an inability to lift heavy objects and ask the expert’s opinion about whether the person could still do their past relevant work.

The expert will answer whether the individual in the hypothetical can do their past work. If the answer is no, then they will discuss whether the person can do any other jobs. A California disability benefits attorney will then question the expert, with a goal of getting him or her to exclude these other jobs. This is done by adding more limitations — such as by saying that the hypothetical individual can’t lift heavy boxes, can’t stand for long periods of time, and can’t work more than 25 minutes without a break. If the vocational expert testifies that the individual cannot perform any jobs, then the ALJ may award disability benefits to the claimant.

At PLBSH, our team of legal professionals is highly skilled at working with people with disabilities to help them qualify for benefits. From the initial application to the final decision, we will stand by your side throughout the process. To learn more or to schedule a consultation with a California disability benefits attorney, contact our office today at (800) 435-7542 or

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