April 17, 2014

Why do Vocational Witnesses Appear to Testify at Social Security disability hearings?

Vocational Witness testimony in Social Security disability cases from Jonathan Ginsberg on Vimeo.

In this video, I talk about vocational witness testimony in a Social Security disability case.  Vocational witnesses appear and testify at many Social Security disability hearings.  At first, this may seem odd, as you have most likely never met this person and now he or she will be giving testimony about your hearing.

SSDI judges use vocational witnesses because the main issue they are deciding has to do with your capacity to work.  Basically, during the hearing, the judge will be trying to identify specific limitations that arise from your medical or mental health condition.  More specifically, the judge will be concerning himself with limitations that will impact your capacity to work.

For example, suppose that you hurt your back and you testify that you experience severe pain 3 to 4 hours per day and that the pain is so severe that you cannot sit or stand but have to lie down and take narcotic pain medication until you fall asleep.  If the medical record supports your testimony and the judge finds you credible, he might ask the VE a question like this:

Mr. VE, assume we have a hypothetical person who is the same age (age 38) as our claimant, with the same education and work experience.  Assume further I find that this person is limited to light work with the following restrictions:

  • this person can sit no more than 15 minutes at a time and stand no more than 15 minutes at a time
  • no bending, crawling, kneeling, stooping or kneeling
  • occasional use of ramps
  • no use of ladders, ropes or scaffolds
  • because of pain and narcotic medication side effects, this person would need to be lying down up to 1/3 of the workday 3 days a week

Based on these limitations could such a person return to the claimant’s past work?

Obviously, you can gues that the VE will testify that no jobs – past work or otherwise – exist with this set of limitations.  I can tell you from experience that if the judge accepted this set of conditions as being applicable, you would be found disabled.

Now assume that the medical record does not support the degree of limitation you assert during your testimony and the judge is thinking that you are exaggerating somewhat.   Consider this question:

Mr. VE, assume we have a hypothetical person who is the same age (age 38) as our claimant, with the same education and work experience.  Assume further I find that this person is limited to light work with the following restrictions:

  • this person can sit for up to 4 hours at a time, and stand for up to 6 hours at a time
  • occasional bending, crawling, kneeling, stooping, crouching
  • unlimited use of ramps, ladders, ropes and scaffolds
  • mild to moderate level of pain that would disqualify this person from complex, multi-step tasks
  • able to perform simple, one or two step tasks

Based on this hypothetical, a person could perform numerious unskilled  jobs and would not be found disabled.  The VE would identify at least 3 sample jobs that fit the limitations of this hypothetical question.  If the judge’s conclusions are reflected in this hypothetical, you would be denied.

I hope you can now see why it is so important that (1) you testify clearly as to your specific limitations and (2) that you have strong support from a treating doctor that identifies several functional limitations.

 

About

Jonathan Ginsberg represents clients in disability claims filed with the Social Security Administration.

Speak Your Mind

*