Often when you go through a Social Security Disability appeal, there’ll be a vocational expert (VE) who provides testimony at the hearing. These people specialize in what level of physical and mental exertion is required for various jobs and can basically say whether or not you’re able to continue to work based on what you’re qualified for and the jobs that are available. Their testimony is very important and can convince an Administrative Law Judge leaning one way or the other to either award you benefits or deny your claim.
Recently, though, I’ve read some troubling accounts of judges relying on findings not from vocational expert testimony, but from something called the “Vocational Consultant’s Form.”
Problems with the Vocational Consultant’s Form
Unfortunately, there are a number of big issues when it comes to this form, and it’s important that you have your representative fight back if the ALJ for your hearing uses one to make his or her decision. What are some of the issues?
Cross-examination must be allowed. Many times where the judge simply uses this form, the consultant in question isn’t present and it’s the sole piece of evidence available. Courts have reversed denials in situations like this, even when there were jobs available that the claimant in question might have potentially been able to perform. The opportunity to cross-examine consultants and experts must be given.
Expertise must be proven. Anyone can sign off on a vocational consultant’s form. A claimant’s representative who was recently facing just such a denial realized during the appeal that the person who wrote and signed off on the form wasn’t an expert or even a consultant – they were just a DDS disability examiner!
Occupations need to be listed. If an expert or consultant argues that there are plenty of jobs that the claimant could do, they have to be able to detail what those occupations are. Often on forms like these, that doesn’t happen.
All limitations have to be addressed. Another issue with VC forms is that person filling them out frequently neglects some aspect of the claimant’s disability when making their argument. Naturally, this should make the argument invalid.
It doesn’t apply in non-extertional cases. If a claimant is suffering from a non-exertional disability, the guidelines clearly say that the ALJ has to get vocational testimony from an expert before making a ruling.