At most New Orleans Social Security Disability Hearings and Metairie Disability Hearings, a vocational expert (VE) testifies about the occurrence of occupations for a person given your limitations. The VE will listen to the testimony and respond to questions from the judge and your attorney (or yourself).
Can you derive any clues from the vocational expert testimony about the ultimate success of your case? Unfortunately, my answer is not usually. VEs answer hypothetical questions from the judge about your work capacity. The judge will often pose a question like this:
Assume a hypothetical person who is the same age as the claimant, with the same work history and education. Assume further that I find that this hypothetical person has the following limitations:
- This person is limited to lifting 20 lbs. occasionally and 10 lbs. frequently;
- This person can sit for up to 6 hours out of 8 hours per day;
- This person can stand for 2 hours out of 8 hours per day;
- This person can only occasionally climb stairs;
- This person cannot perform overhead lifting with the dominant right hand;
- This person can only grip occasionally;
- This person can climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds occasionally;
- This person should not perform work at unprotected heights;
- This person should not work around dangerous machinery
Based on these limitations, could such a person perform the claimant’s past work?
Could such a person perform any other job in the local or regional economy?
Many judges will ask several of these hypothetical questions of the vocational witness, some of which will elicit a list of jobs that a hypothetical person could do, while other questions will elicit (the desired response—“No Jobs”, from your perspective) the response that there are no jobs that a person with these restrictions can perform.
In addition to the judge’s questions, either your representative or you can ask questions. The questions are usually designed to include significant limitations such that the response “no jobs” is given.
The point here—even if you hear the response “no jobs” from one or more of the hypothetical questions, it does not mean that your case will be approved. The opposite is also true—just because a vocational expert says there are jobs to most of the hypotheticals, but “no jobs” to one hypo, the judge can determine that you are disabled. Unfortunately, in most cases, vocational testimony rarely generates reliable clues—you are going to have to wait a few more weeks to learn the outcome of your case.
If you are worried about addressing the VE during your hearing, it never hurts to talk to or retain an experienced Social Security attorney who can help you properly prepare your case.