If your disability claim is denied because Social Security says there is "other work" you can do (rather than your past work), you'll need to request an appeal hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ).
At your disability hearing, if the vocational expert (VE) states you can no longer do your past work, the ALJ will ask the VE a series of questions based on your medical record and your testimony to determine if there are other jobs that you can do. Your disability claim may be denied again if the vocational expert at your hearing names other jobs you can do.
If the VE testifies that there is suitable other work you can do, he or she must give the title of the job, provide the number assigned to the job in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), and provide the number of the job positions in your area. The jobs cited by the VE must be based on the use of any work skills you acquired from past jobs and must exist in “significant” numbers in the local and national economy.
The administrative law judge (ALJ) and your attorney (if you have hired one) should then question the VE about how your documented limitations would affect the ability to perform the named jobs. Your attorney’s goal is to elicit testimony from the VE that you cannot, in fact, perform any of the named jobs in light of your impairments.
Your attorney should ask the vocational expert to explain in detail the physical requirements of the jobs he or she named to see if any of the jobs can be eliminated based on your specific symptoms and limitations. In describing the named other work, the VE may leave out some requirements that are listed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Your attorney should be able to spot any omitted requirements in the job description that make the job unsuitable for you due to your physical limitations.
For example, in one disability case, although the VE testified that the claimant could no longer do his past job as a truck driver because of his spinal stenosis and back pain, the VE testified that he could do a job such as conveyor tender or operator (a.k.a. assembly line operator). The VE testified that this job required the operator to push a button to start the conveyor, observe movement of materials on the conveyor, and notify the supervisor of equipment malfunction. However, the VE failed to add that the operator must also at times dislodge jams by moving objects on the conveyor belt.
The claimant’s attorney questioned the VE on all of the specific physical requirements of the conveyor tender position, and the VE stated that it did require the ability to handle and move objects. According to the claimant’s testimony and medical record, he experienced intermittent numbness in his arms and hands due to nerve compression. The claimant’s attorney then asked whether someone with numbness in the upper extremities would be able to work as a conveyor tender or operator as the job was generally performed. The VE testified that the claimant could not perform the work because the numbness could cause inability to handle and move objects.
This elimination of possible jobs is done by way of hypothetical questions posed to the VE by both the ALJ and your attorney. (For more information, see our article that discusses how disability judges use hypotheticals.)
Another way to eliminate jobs named by the vocational expert is to show that you didn't learn the required job skills at your prior jobs. You do this by correcting the VE's understanding of what you did at your prior work. In addition, if you can prove that your impairment doesn't allow you to perform a certain skill, Social Security can't say that you could use an acquired job skill at another job. For more information, see our article on ruling out your ability to do work due to lack of skills.
The vocational expert must also state the number of positions in the local and national economy for that job, and the job must exist in significant numbers in either the national or local economy. If the VE states there are only a few thousand jobs nationally, your attorney should raise that point. For more information, see our article on how challenging the VE's number of jobs as insignificant can lead to being found disabled.
Most disability claims are won at the hearing level. Although you are not required to hire an attorney to represent you at your hearing, an experienced disability attorney has the unique skills and resources needed to be able to successfully cross-examine the VE on the spot—for instance, after hearing the VE name some other jobs that you can do. In truth, the above recommendations are a summary of the ways you can challenge a vocational expert, but the actually questioning is much more involved. To find a local disability lawyer, you can use our disability attorney locator.