There are a lot of questions about disability hearings out there. Many people don’t know the first thing about a disability hearing, and others have learned a lot from researching because they are trying to figure out if they qualify for to receive disability benefits. One of the most important parts of the disability application is the disability hearing, and two of the experts that are at the hearing are the vocational and medical experts.
Besides the disability judge and the attorney that represents the claimant, these are two of the most important figures at a disability hearing. They play a big part in deciding whether or not someone ends up receiving the disability that they are applying for. Because of that, they play a major role in the entire disability process.
Why Disability Hearings Need These Experts
The Vocational Expert (VE)
The whole point of a vocational hearing is for a claimant to have an opportunity to show an independent judge, via all of the medical evidence and testimony, that the disability or group of impairments prevents them from working any job. The job of a VE at these hearings is to prove or disprove that someone is capable of holding any job due to their disability.
The first step of the VE is to classify what jobs you had in the past. Next, they qualify what skills were learned or necessary and what physical exertion level was required. One way they do that is by looking at the past work of the claimant. The judge will usually ask most of the questions about your past work directly, but occasionally the VE will ask the claimant some follow up questions so they know how the job was performed. Sometimes the way a job is performed is different than their job title and they will want to clarify that.
Disability hearings need a vocational expert to establish that someone is able to perform a job and does not qualify for disability benefits, or at they are unable to work and do qualify for benefits. That is the purpose of the VE at these hearings.
The part of the hearing that really worries most clients is the VE testimony. The judge typically presents 1-3 hypothetical scenarios to the VE to see if that “hypothetical” person with your exact limitations could hold any job or past jobs. The first scenario almost always leads the VE to say that there are jobs available. The second or third scenario is where the finding of “no jobs” would be available for that hypothetical situation. Many times I’ve had a client verbally gasp at the suggestion of some of the jobs suggested. I always warn them to not get too worried on the first hypothetical especially. Also, many times the way the judges phrase the hypothetical is confusing. The claimants come out of the hearing thinking they have lost when in fact it was a very favorable comment. Moral of the story, always speak to your lawyer/representative after the hearing to make sure you are on the same page as to what went down during the hearing.
The Medical Expert (ME)
The medical expert performs a different role at a disability hearing. Technically, some MEs can testify at the hearings in person, while others testify over the telephone. But over the past 7 years, I have never had an ME testify in person. The role of the ME at a disability hearing is to determine if the claimant medically qualifies to meet the “listing of impairments”, or in other words, the governments’ rule that says you are disabled. Not all impairments qualify and the MEs provide a great resource to the judge when the medical documentation is unclear.
The ME will present their opinion on your diagnoses, whether your impairments meet the SSA’s “listing of impairments,” and the work limitations caused by any impairments. Many times if an ME is present, the judge will have the ME speak first and give his findings. If the ME finds that the claimant meets the listing, the hearing is pretty short after that. But if the ME finds that the listings are not met, the lawyer/representative should be ready to cross-examine the ME with some questions.
MEs are rarely called upon to testify at a hearing in Phoenix (other ODARs may be different), but when they are, the lawyer is made aware of it long in advance. He/She should be prepared with questions when and if the need arises.
If one wants to win their disability application, it’s important to get both the vocational and medical experts on your side. Each one plays a vital role in advising the judge in his decision, and their report can make or break your entire case.
Those that are wanting to win their application ought to have a good attorney on their side who knows the ins and outs of a disability hearing. With less than 36% of people getting approved at their disability hearings at the Phoenix ODAR and 43% at the North Phoenix ODAR, it’s important that those who have a hearing give themselves the best chance possible of getting approved.