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The Role of Vocational Experts in Social Security Disability Eligibility

A vocational expert (VE) may give testimony during a claimant’s social security hearing. The role of a VE is to give an expert opinion on whether the claimant can find other work, based on their medical limitations. The VE is crucial in each case because a claimant may be found to have a severe disability by a Medical Expert (ME); however the VE could testify that the claimant can adjust to other work based on other criteria. A VE will consider factors such as education level, transferable skill set, and knowledge of the current job market.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is one of the resources VEs use to stay in tune with the current job market. However, the job market is continuously changing and technological advances have created more job opportunities. Many of these jobs do not require the physical presence of a worker, nor do they require the worker to commit to a set schedule. For example, there are also online teaching jobs that do not require the physical presence of the teacher, but require that they download an app and they can teach from wherever they are.

There has also been an increase in contingent work, such as working as a driver for a ride share company. This type of work allows the employee to make their own hours, so they are in charge of how much they work, and when they work. This change in the labor market raises questions about its impact on Social Security Disability vocational opinions. Many disability claimants apply for benefits because their disability no longer allows them to work in the capacity that they have been, but now there are many other options.

A study by The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found that “contingent workers are also about one-third less likely to be awarded disability benefits.” This is in part due to contingent workers not reaching the required amount of work quarters to qualify them for SSDI, but not making below the SGA allotted income level. Therefore, if contingent work is getting in the way of initial eligibility for benefits, it may impact vocational opinions as well at the hearing level. This issue has yet to be addressed, but the future could force this question to be answered and may completely change the way VEs evaluate SSA cases.

 

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