A Vocational Expert (VE) is supposed to be an impartial person who may testify at Social Security disability hearings regarding work activities.  They are supposed to have sufficient experience, education and training to be able to testify.  However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has no specific definition of what makes a person qualified to be a vocational expert.  SSA has decided that anyone on their “roster” is qualified to testify as a vocational expert.

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is responsible for determining a claimant’s Residual Functional Capacity (RFC).  The ALJ then will use this at steps 4 and 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process .

Step 4 of the Sequential Evaluation Process is to determine whether the claimant can perform their Past Relevant Work (PRW).  The burden is on the claimant to prove they cannot return to their past work.  Past relevant work is defined as any work within 15 years prior to the application date that meets the Substantial Gainful Activity definition.

The ALJ may ask the VE to “classify” the claimant’s Past Relevant Work.  This means the VE will use the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) to give the appropriate number, exertional level, SVP, if work is skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled and any other relevant parts from the DOT listing for each job.  Based upon the RFC, the ALJ may ask a VE if the claimant can perform any of their PRW.  If the VE testifies that a claimant can return to a past job, then the claimant has failed to carry their burden of showing they are disabled.

Step 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process  is to determine whether the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy that exists in significant numbers.   Here, the VE may testify about potential jobs based upon the ALJ’s RFC in the form of a hypothetical question.  The VE will usually give three jobs in response to the hypothetical if they believe a person is capable of performing work based upon the given hypothetical.

The ALJ will not ask the VE questions about any jobs listed other than to ask if the VE’s testimony is consistent with the DOT.  If the testimony is not consistent with the DOT then the VE must testify how the VE arrived at the information.

The claimant or the claimant’s representative is responsible for questioning the VE about their testimony.  Here are three ways to question the VE:

  1. You can examine the VE’s testimony with the information found in the DOT and its supplement, Selected Characteristics of Occupations Defined in the Revised Dictionary of Occupational Titles.  If the VE’s testimony violates a requirement in these publications for a job that the VE testified about in response to the hypothetical then the VE was wrong or the VE must explain why the job would still apply.
  2. You can challenge the RFC by adding additional information from the evidence or changing it with evidence.  You need to be able to cite to specific evidence.
  3. You seek to elicit testimony from the VE about how the VE arrived at the particular jobs cited and how they arrived at the numbers for each job.

Remember, the burden of proof shifts from the claimant to the Social Security Administration at Step 5.  So, the ALJ needs information from the VE to support a decision based upon a Step 5 analysis unless the ALJ can rely on other accepted evidence.