Who you have representing you when appealing a denial of disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) could mean the difference between having your claim approved or permanently denied. While a Social Security disability advocate can help you prepare your claim, only a board certified attorney like M. Stanley Whitehead can represent you in an appeals hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
It’s not unusual to have a claim for Social Security disability benefits denied during the initial application process. There are several reasons why your claim may have been denied; one of the most common reasons given for rejecting a claim is that the SSA decided that the applicant is not completely disabled and still able to perform work in some capacity.
What is a Vocational Expert?
The SSA judges an applicant’s ability to work based on the opinion of a Vocational Expert (VE). The SSA uses VEs to review the exhibits in a disability case and provide impartial factual and expert opinion evidence at hearings before an ALJ based on their knowledge of:
- The skill level and physical and mental demands of various occupations;
- The characteristics of work settings;
- The existence and incidence of jobs within occupations; and
- Transferable skills analysis and SSA regulatory requirements for transferability of work skills.
VEs provide evidence by answering questions posed by the ALJ and the claimant or the claimant’s representative. According to the SSA, a VE should possess:
- Up-to-date knowledge of, and current experience with, industrial and occupational trends and local labor market conditions.
- An understanding of how we determine whether a claimant is disabled, especially at steps 4 and 5 of the sequential evaluation process.
- Involvement in or knowledge of vocational counseling and the job placement of adult, handicapped workers into jobs.
- Knowledge of, and experience using, vocational reference sources of which the agency has taken administrative notice.
A VE is prohibited from commenting on medical matters, such as what they believe the medical evidence indicates about the claimant’s ability to work, or whether they believe the claimant is disabled or not.
Disputing a Vocational Expert’s Testimony
In order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must be able to prove that your disability prevents you from doing work of any kind. Don’t get discouraged if a Vocational Expert’s testimony indicates you could easily perform a number of readily available jobs. There are several effective ways to question their testimony. A few of these strategies include:
Use of a “Null” Hypothesis
You ask the VE to assume that no jobs or occupations exist and challenge them to provide evidence to the contrary. Since the VE is saying that you can do plenty of jobs, they should not only be able to provide details about which particular jobs but also prove that these jobs are available.
Do They Know the Pertinent SSRs?
The VE is testifying that there are plenty of jobs available, but are they applying the appropriate rulings to make that determination? Various SSRs detail things like the transferability of work skills (SSR 82-41), how a claimant’s ability to do other work should be determined (SSRs 83-10, 83-14, 85-15, and 96-9p), and how VE evidence can be used in disability decisions (SSR 00-4p).
Get Specific about Unspecific Language
Often, unspecific terms such as “limited” will be used in reference to describe your ability to perform certain kinds of tasks. What does the VE mean specifically when they say “limited”? Ask them to provide “frequency descriptors” such as:
- Occasional (up to a third)
- Frequent (one-third to two-thirds)
- No limitation
The goal is to get the Vocational Expert’s testimony to be as specific as possible and demonstrate their opinion isn’t consistent with the amount and type of work a claimant’s disability actually allows them to perform.
Speak To a Board Certified Social Security Disability Benefits Attorney
M. Stanley Whitehead is a board certified Social Security Disability Benefits Attorney who is dedicated to helping U.S. workers and veterans obtain the disability benefits they deserve after an injury, illness or other debilitating condition leaves them unable to work. He has successfully represented clients at all phases of the SSA’s disability benefits decision process, including arguing their case in front of an ALJ at a Social Security Administrative Hearing.
If your claim for SSA disability benefits has been denied, you only have a limited time in which to submit your appeal. Don’t repeat the same mistakes that caused your original claim to be rejected. Contact the law offices of M. Stanley Whitehead without delay.