Friday, October 14, 2011

Vocational Experts

In general, a vocational expert (“VE”) is an expert in the areas of vocational rehabilitation, vocational and earning capacity, lost earnings, cost of replacement labor and lost ability/time in performing household services. They typically perform evaluations for purposes of civil litigation, as an aspect of economic damages.

The role of a VE is somewhat different at a Social Security Disability (“SSD”) hearing. In theory, a VE is supposed to testify about the number of jobs in the national economy that are available for an individual with a specific set of functional limitations. However, in practice, role of the VE at a SSD hearing is usually to create evidence for the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) who has already determined that the claimant is not disabled, and uses the VE to present testimony to substantiate that the claimant can work.

A claimant with spina bifida asked me to represent him after his initial hearing with an ALJ. The claimant had received SSD in the past, but asked that it be stopped because he wanted to try working out of his house. A couple of years later, after surgery related to his spina bifida rendered him incontinent, the claimant stopped working and reapplied for SSD.

Prior to the hearing, I provided the ALJ with a report from a VE that explained in detail why the claimant’s need for bathroom breaks and access rendered the claimant incapable of working. The ALJ agreed, and approved his SSD application.

The VE report was expensive, but I convinced the claimant that the cost was worth it, especially since it would amount to less than one month’s benefits. I received the claimant’s notice of award today, which specified that his past-due benefits are over $190,000.

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