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Do Disability “Experts” Need to Disclose Their Actual Methodology?

Posted on in Social Security Disability

IL disability lawyerOne of the key things Social Security looks for when assessing an application for disability benefits is whether or not the applicant can “make an adjustment to other work.” Many people assume they are disabled simply because they cannot go back to their old job. But the legal threshold is whether or not someone with the applicant's impairments and skill level can find any meaningful work in the economy.

To make such assessments, Social Security typically relies on the testimony of vocational experts (VEs), who are asked to estimate the type and number of jobs available to a person who hypothetically matches the disability applicant's profile. Unfortunately, it is not always clear exactly how VEs make their estimates or reach their conclusions with respect to a given disability applicant. To further complicate matters, he VEs often depend upon outdated government classification manuals when examining the types of work available.

Magistrate Orders New Hearing After Vocational Expert Refuses to Provide Data Sources

In some cases, a VEs failure to properly explain his or her methodology can justify granting an unsuccessful applicant a new disability hearing. That is exactly what happened in a recent Illinois case, Tolbert v. Berryhill. The plaintiff suffers from a number of physical impairments–including “arthritis, hypertension, right carpal tunnel, and asthma,” according to court records–that she said made it impossible for her to work.

During a disability hearing before a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), a VE testified that, based on the hypothetical questions posed, someone in the plaintiff's position could still perform “three specific unskilled, light jobs”–that of a housekeeper, cafeteria attendant, or cashier. The VE further claimed such jobs existed in sufficient numbers in Illinois for the plaintiff to find work.

The VE declined to discuss her methodology or go into detail as to how she arrived at her conclusions. When questioned by the ALJ, the VE would only say that she relied on her “professional experience to determine what would be representative” of a specific job classification. But again, the VE would not explain how she determine what she meant by “representative.”

The plaintiff's disability benefits lawyer pushed for more information, specifically asking the ALJ to force the VE to disclose her data sources. The ALJ denied the request. As long as the VE was considered a qualified expert–the plaintiff conceded as much–the ALJ said there was no reason to force the disclosure of her data sources.

But a federal magistrate disagreed. In ordering a new hearing, the magistrate said that while “cross-examination of an expert may render production of the VE's sources unnecessary” in some cases, here it was a problem since the VE “never fully explained her methodology to determine the number of jobs” theoretically available to someone in the plaintiff's position. Indeed, as the plaintiff's attorney was denied access to the VE's data sources, it was effectively impossible for him to “properly [cross-examine] the VE to determine whether her methodology was reliable.”

Contact an Illinois Disability Benefits Attorney Today

Cases like this illustrate the important role played by dedicated Chicago Social Security disability lawyers in assisting clients who have been unfairly denied benefits. If you are having trouble with your own Social Security application and need advice or assistance, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 today to schedule a free consultation.




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