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Questioning the Vocational Expert About Skills

Many Social Security disability appeals are denied because of the testimony of a vocational expert, or “VE.” In fact, a vocational expert is about three times as likely to testify at your hearing as a medical expert.

Sometimes it seems like the VE is trying to keep you from getting benefits, but more often, he is trying to answer questions to the best of his knowledge.

There are plenty of opportunities for mistakes to enter an expert’s testimony. VEs are not necessarily experts on Social Security disability law. Many have backgrounds in vocational rehabilitation and are experienced in thinking of ways for employers to accommodate workers with disabilities.

However, just because a VE can come up with some way for you to work in spite of your impairment doesn’t mean you can find an employer willing to agree to it. The relevant question is whether you can do a job as it is ordinarily performed.

Your attorney should be more knowledgeable about the nuances of Social Security law than the vocational expert. Questioning the VE is one of the many ways a skilled New York disability lawyer can increase your chances of winning benefits.

Your lawyer may ask questions like the following:

  • How does the Social Security Administration define a “skill”?
  • What is the difference between a trait and a skill?
  • What is a “transferable” skill?
  • Can a person’s residual functional capacity prevent the transferability of a skill? For example, would a painting skill be transferable for a claimant with paint fume allergies?
  • What medical restrictions did you consider when deciding what jobs the claimant’s skills could be transferred to?
  • How long will it take for the claimant to establish a high degree of proficiency in each job you have identified?

Many vocational experts will admit when they are wrong and may even reverse their opinion when faced with new facts. Even if your VE stubbornly refuses to change his mind, his credibility with the judge will be damaged.