A vocational expert is an impartial expert witness with training, experience, and knowledge of the current labor market, the jobs available in the national economy, and skills needed to perform specific jobs. Vocational experts are almost always called upon to testify at hearings before administrative law judges and their testimony plays a significant role in the judge’s decision.
At your hearing, the judge and your attorney will ask the vocational expert a series of hypothetical questions about different work-related limitations you may have due to your medical conditions. The judge usually asks questions first and allows your attorney to ask additional questions he or she believes are supported by the medical evidence in your file. The vocational expert will testify whether he or she believes you can return to any of the work you have done in the past 15 years, whether you have any transferrable skills from your past work, and whether there is any other work you can do that is available in the national economy. If the vocational expert testifies that you can go back to work you have done in the past, your claim will be denied.
However, if the vocational expert testifies that you cannot do any of your past work, the question then becomes whether there is any other work you can do that is available in the national economy. If the vocational expert says you cannot do any other work available in the national economy, your claim will be granted. Often, the judge and your attorney will discuss several different hypothetical limitations at your hearing. It is not uncommon for the vocational expert to testify that a person can perform work under some hypothetical limitations but cannot perform work under other hypothetical limitations. When this happens, the judge has the discretion to choose which hypothetical limitations he or she believes are appropriate, based on the evidence and your testimony. In these circumstances, whether your claim is denied or approved will depend on which limitations the judge finds most persuasive and whether the vocational expert said you could work with those limitations or not.