Often times, in a disability hearing, a Social Security Administrative Law Judge will call upon the assistance of a Medical or Vocational Expert to help them in determining whether or not a claimant is disabled and unable to perform in the workplace. The expert is supposed to be unbaised, but they are paid by the Social Security Administration to testify directly in the hearing. If an expert is called to testify in your hearing, you will be notified in your Notice Of Hearing. The expert will either be a medical doctor or a professional vocational counselor.
The role of the expert is to answer questions about the claimant’s abilities based on the medical record and the claimant’s work history. Typically, the Administration Law Judge will ask the expert a few questions and even propose hypotheticals based on the claimant’s work history and current physical or mental condition. Following the Judge’s inquiries, the claimant, or the claimant’s attorney, can then cross-examine the expert and ask more questions about the claimant’s abilities.
Below is an explanation about each expert and how a Social Security Judge utilizes them:
The Medical Expert that is called to testify in a disability hearing is licensed medical doctor who has never treated the claimant. In fact, the only time the expert sees the claimant is at the actual hearing. In preparation for their testimony, the medical expert will review the entire medical record and develop conclusions about the claimant’s functional abilities. Usually, the Judge will ask the medical expert to summarize the claimant’s condition and functional limitations that might be present. Once the Judge has had an opportunity to question the medical expert, the claimant, or claimant’s attorney, may then ask the medical expert questions by cross-examining them. Asking the proper questions to a medical expert could be the difference between winning and losing you disability case.
The Vocational Expert is sometimes called to testify at a disability hearing when the Judge wants additional information about the potential jobs a claimant could do based on the claimant’s alleged impairments. The Vocational Expert uses something called the Dictionary Of Occupational Titles as their foundation in determining which job, or jobs, the claimant did in the past, as well as which jobs the expert thinks they can do now, if any. The expert takes all functional limitations into account when deciding if there is any job the claimant can perform and even testifies to the number of potential jobs that might exist for the claimant in the local or national economy. Following the Judge’s questions, the claimant, or the claimant’s attorney, has the opportunity to cross-examine the vocational expert by asking a series of questions based on the claimant’s alleged impairments.
It’s important to remember that while these experts are supposed to provide neutral opinions, they are paid by the Social Security Administration, which on it’s face, presents the appearance of impropriety. More often than not, a Judge relies on the testimony of a Vocational Expert to assist them, but on occasion, you might see both a medical expert and vocational expert at a hearing.
Choosing to be represented by an attorney really comes in handy if experts are going to testify at your hearing. Attorneys are skilled in the art of cross-examination and can generate favorable answers from the experts in particularly difficult hearings. The attorneys at Markhoff & Mittman understand how to effectively cross-examine an expert so that a successful result is had. A claimant need not fear an expert as long as they are prepared to question them should they testify in a negative light.