Under Social Security regulations, it is not enough to have a disability (a diagnosed medical condition). Your condition has to be severe enough to prevent you from being able to engage in a “substantial gainful activity” (typically full-time competitive employment). If you can’t show that your condition keeps you from being able to work, you are likely to have problems with your case.
At the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) has a Vocational Expert testify about the kinds of jobs are available, and how work-place limitations affect your ability to perform those jobs.
Basically, the Vocational Expert answers two questions:
- Can you still perform any of the jobs you have done over the last 15 years?
- Can you still perform any other jobs which exist in substantial numbers in the national economy?
The judge uses the vocational expert’s answers to decide if you can still work (and therefore, whether you are disabled). This makes the vocational expert’s role extremely important!
Bloomington Illinois Social Security Lawyer Dirk May wrote an interesting article a while back about vocational experts:
What do you do when the judge turns to the vocational expert and gives him the hypothetical question?
You need to listen carefully to the type of limitations the judge provides to the vocational expert. If you have a limitation that he does not list or that is in your medical records you need to ask the expert about the effect the limitation would have on your past work.
The vocational expert will often be asked to provide examples of jobs you could perform based on your limitations. Once again, listen carefully for the types of jobs listed. If you do not understand the job duties ask for details. Listen for the exertional level, such as sedentary or light. Ask what makes the particular job sedentary or light.
Typically, the Judge will ask vocational expert two or sometimes three sets of hypotheticals based on different limitations.
- The first set of hypotheticals may be based a form a Social Security doctor or technician filled out about your limitations.
- The second set may be based on what your doctors have said about your limitations. This often gives you your best chance of winning. You have gotten your doctors to describe your limitations haven’t you?
- The last set of questions may be a mash-up of what the Social Security doctor has said, what your doctor has said, and what you said during the hearing.
Here is the $64,000 question: if the judge asks three sets of questions, and gets three different (even conflicting) answers … which set of answers will the judge use to decide if you are disabled or not?
The only way to even try to answer this is to have done a lot of hearings with that judge and really know the Social Security rules and regulations. Only then, can you hope to read the judge. In other words, you really need to have an attorney by your side.
Read the rest of Dirk May’s article here.
Did you hear any strange questions, or answers, at your Social Security hearing? Share your experiences in the comments?