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The Importance of Challenging Social Security Vocational Experts

Posted on in Social Security Disability

Chicago social security benefits lawyer vocational expertOne of the messiest aspects of the Social Security disability benefits process is dealing with the vocational experts (VEs) retained by the government to decide whether or not an applicant is still capable of working in spite of their physical or mental impairments. Despite the fact that they are referred to as “experts,” in many cases, these individuals are simply pulling numbers out of thin air. Ideally, a VE is supposed to provide reliable estimates of the types of work–and number of jobs available–that a hypothetical applicant could perform. However, in practice, a VE is often forced to rely on outdated methodology that provides little in the way of useful evidence.

Magistrate: Social Security Failed to Press VE on Source of Job Estimates

Unfortunately, the flawed methodology used by VEs does not stop Social Security from relying on such evidence. Consider a recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois. In this case, the plaintiff applied for disability benefits eight years ago. At a 2016 hearing, a VE testified regarding the plaintiff's past work and hypothetical job prospects given his disability. The VE explained that the plaintiff previously worked as a “combination photographer and retail store manager.”

The administrative law judge (ALJ) conducting the hearing then posed a hypothetical question to the VE, which is standard practice in disability cases. The ALJ wanted the VE to estimate the jobs available to the plaintiff given his “age, education, and work experience,” and assuming he was currently limited to nothing more than “sedentary work.” The VE said the plaintiff could work as an “assembler,” a job function identified in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), a 1992 document still used by Social Security to define the parameters of certain vocations. 

The VE then testified there were 82,000 assembler jobs in the state of Illinois. However, many of those jobs would be too “physically demanding” for the plaintiff, so the VE estimated the plaintiff could perform about five percent–or roughly 4,000–of those assembler jobs. On cross-examination from the plaintiff's Social Security disability attorney, the VE acknowledged that five percent was a “low number,” and his assessment was based on his “knowledge of the jobs in the DOT and my knowledge of the job market.”

The ALJ ultimately denied the plaintiff's application for disability benefits, citing in part the VE's testimony regarding the number of assembler jobs available. However, on appeal, the magistrate held that the ALJ erred in accepting the VE's testimony “without question.” More to the point, the ALJ never made additional inquiries into the “reliability of the VE's numbers after Plaintiff's counsel challenged the foundations of the VE's opinions” regarding the number of available jobs. Indeed, the VE never explained where his “knowledge of the jobs” came from or how he could reliably “determine numbers of particular jobs.” The magistrate therefore returned the plaintiff's case to Social Security for a new hearing.

Contact an Illinois Social Security Disability Attorney Today

As you can see, having a qualified Chicago disability benefits lawyer is often invaluable when it comes to challenging unfounded assumptions made by Social Security and its so-called experts. If you need help with your own claim, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC to schedule a free consultation today. Call us at 312-999-0999 for help.

Sources:

https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=15787818159852950817

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