When you are filing a claim for Social Security Disability, you are alleging that you cannot work because of your health impairments. Not only do you have to prove that you have impairments that limit your functioning, but you also have to prove that you are so limited by those impairments that you cannot work any job in the national economy.
When you actually get in front of an Administrative Law Judge, part of your hearing will include testimony from a Vocational Expert. This is someone hired by Social Security as an independent contractor, and they will provide testimony only relating to your ability to work, and whether or not there are jobs in the economy that hypothetically you could do. Some claimants feel the Vocational Expert is on the side of the Law Judge, but they are a neutral party. In close cases, the Vocational Expert’s testimony can weigh heavily in favor of approval.
The Vocational Expert classifies your prior work to help the Law Judge understand how physically or mentally demanding your previous jobs were. They may also take into consideration any accommodations you received, or if your job varied from the typical description. For example, typically a job of a cashier may require sitting for most of the day, and lifting from 10-20 pounds, but they will adjust their information to the Law Judge if at the cashier job you performed, you were on your feet all day, it required walking for more than half the day, and you would regularly lift 50-100 pounds. This information, coupled with your testimony on your functional limitations, can help the Law Judge decide whether you are physically able to return to your prior work.
Sometimes the expert will present certain jobs that fit in with the criteria the Law Judge gives. These are usually examples of jobs, with estimates of how many of those jobs are available in the city, state, region, or nationally. They are not telling you to go out and get these jobs – they are used as an example. So it’s not necessarily harming your case if the expert presents different occupations available.
Your disability attorney can help you prepare for your hearing with a vocational expert by reviewing your past work with you, and how specifically you cannot do the jobs you used to hold. This will help the attorney pose specific questions to the expert to make your case stronger, and help convince the Law Judge that you are unable to work, and thus finding you disabled under Social Security’s rules.