If an injury or illness has left you so disabled you can no longer work, you may qualify to collect disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
In order to be approved for Social Security disability benefits, it’s not enough that you can no longer work at your present job; your medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) must be so severe that you are unable to engage in any other kind of “substantial gainful activity” that exists in the national economy.
The SSA relies in part on a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) Assessment to make this determination. The RFC assessment is based on the relevant evidence in the case record, such as:
- Medical history
- Medical signs and laboratory findings
- The effects of treatment
- Reports of daily activities
- Lay evidence
- Recorded observations
- Medical source statements
- Effects of symptoms, including pain
- Evidence from attempts to work
- Need for a structured living environment
- Work evaluations, if available
During the initial determination and reconsideration of a claim, state agencies (often called “Disability Determination Services,” or DDSs) make the decision if a claimant is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity because of their condition. Their decision is based on the RFC assessment, as well as the age, education, location, and work experience of the applicant.
It’s not uncommon for a claim to be rejected at these levels because a DDS determined the applicant was still able to perform some kinds of work.
If an applicant’s claim is denied after being reconsidered, the applicant has a right to appeal this decision in a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ will make a determination if an applicant is still able to engage in substantial gainful activity based in part on the opinion of a Vocational Expert (VE).
What is a Vocational Expert?
VEs are vocational professionals who are supposed to provide impartial expert opinion evidence about a claimant’s vocational abilities. They provide both factual and expert opinion evidence based on their knowledge of:
- The skill level and physical and mental demands of occupations.
- The characteristics of work settings.
- The existence and incidence of jobs within occupations.
- Transferable skills analysis and SSA regulatory requirements for transferability of work skills.
A VE should possess up-to-date knowledge of, and experience with, industrial and occupational trends and local labor market conditions, an understanding of how the SSA determines whether a claimant is disabled, and experience or knowledge in vocational counseling and the job placement of adult, handicapped workers into jobs.
A Vocational Expert Must Be Able To Back Up Everything They Say
At the hearing, the ALJ will ask the VE questions about what types of work you can still perform, if any. It’s important for your attorney to pay close attention and cross examine the VE to ensure their responses to the judge are based on verifiable facts and not just opinion.
The VE must explain to the judge why a claimant is still able to perform certain jobs and what jobs they are qualified for. For example, if a VE says there a claimant is able to work certain jobs, they must be able to provide a specific job title. They must be able to show that the jobs are accessible to claimant. They must be able to explain how a claimant’s work history qualifies them for the types of jobs they are able to perform. And they must be able to demonstrate that your disability does not prevent you from performing a task.
There are many ways in which this testimony can be challenged. A VE should be able to provide sources to back up their testimony about job types and numbers. How is the claimant qualified to work a job he has no experience doing? For any proposed jobs, the entire job description needs to be examined to ensure a claimant is actually able to perform the job. A claimant may be physically able to perform the job but will their potential employer accommodate their need to take several hours a week for treatments?
Help Getting the Social Security Disability Benefits You Deserve
M. Stanley Whitehead is Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law by the National Board of Social Security Disability Advocacy. He has helped clients in Houston and all over the U.S. successfully appeal a decision by the SSA to deny their claim for Social Security disability benefits.
It’s not uncommon for an initial claim for Social Security disability benefits to be turned down. It’s not because you don’t qualify or deserve the benefits, it’s often just that you didn’t provide the SSA with enough information to make a favorable decision in your case. We can help you prepare and submit an appeal that addresses all the SSA’s concerns, including demonstrating that your disability has left you unable to work any job, even a sessile position.
You only have a limited time in which to appeal the SSA’s decision. Contact Houston Social Security disability attorney M. Stanley Whitehead to schedule a free consultation to discuss your situation.