What Is the Sequential Evaluation Process Used by Vocational Experts?

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sequential evaluation process

If you are seeking Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you need to go through a process, which can be longer if your initial application for benefits is denied. In fact, about 60 to 70 percent of all initial disability claims are denied by the Social Security Administration (SSA) each year. That means that your claim may likely be initially denied, and you will have to go to a disability hearing to demonstrate that you deserve to receive SSDI benefits.

At that hearing, a Vocational Expert plays a significant role. Accordingly, in this article, we are going to discuss how a Vocational Expert fits into the SSDI hearing process, and then we will discuss the five steps on which a Vocational Expert needs to provide expert testimony – the 5-step sequential evaluation process.

If, after reviewing this article, you have additional questions about a Vocational Expert for your Social Security disability application, we invite you to contact us at Occupational Assessment Services, Inc. – OAS.   

We are one of the most experienced employability and life care planning firms in the United States. To discuss your case, call us at 1-800-292-1919, contact us at a location near you, or through our online form.

Where Do Vocational Experts Fit In With the SSDI Process?

Normally, the SSA uses Vocational Experts to provide evidence at hearings before an administrative law judge (ALJ). A Vocational Expert is called in by the SSA during the disability hearing to provide impartial expert opinion evidence about a claimant’s vocational abilities – in other words, the claimant’s ability to work – that an ALJ considers when making a disability determination.  

The Vocational Expert will typically provide testimony during the hearing – it can be in person, over the phone, or by video conference – yet, Vocational Experts have been called on to do other things in connection with a disability claim. Some of those other things include providing opinions in writing, by answering written questions, called “interrogatories.” 

What is most important for a Vocational Expert is that he or she understands what the legal definition of “disability” is so that the Vocational Expert can properly give a useful opinion to the ALJ.

In general, the definition of disability is “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment” that can be expected to last for longer than one year.  

What is the Sequential Evaluation Process?

Because a Vocational Expert is responsible for helping the ALJ understand whether a claimant meets the definition of “disability,” the Vocational Expert must go through a 5-step process, called the sequential evaluation process.  Those 5 steps, presented in the form of questions, are as follows:

1. Is the claimant engaging in the substantial gainful activity?

As noted above, the inability to do “substantial gainful activity” is a touchstone for whether someone is disabled under the law. Thus, the Vocational Expert needs to testify as to whether a claimant is doing significant physical or mental activities that are usually done for pay or profit. Activities like self-care, hobbies, school attendance, and social programs are not considered substantial gainful activity.

Vocational Experts will normally determine the question of substantial gainful activity based on a claimant’s gross monthly earnings. If a claimant is making income and getting regular raises, that is comparable with unimpaired individuals, then a claimant may likely be considered not disabled.

2. Does the claimant have a “severe” impairment?

An impairment is “severe” if it significantly limits a claimant’s ability to do one or more basic work activities needed for most jobs. Typically, a Vocational Expert does not need to provide any expert testimony on this particular step, because an ALJ will have the ability to answer the question at this step based on the medical evidence presented.

3. Does the claimant have an impairment that matches something on the Listing of Impairments?

As strange as it sounds there is an SSA regulation called the Listing of Impairments. The goal at this step is to see – even if a claimant’s impairment does not quite fall under something in the Listing – that the claimant’s impairment is “medically equivalent” to the findings of a listed impairment. The Listing describes each “body system” and the impairments that are severe enough to prevent an adult from any “gainful” activity.

4. Can the claimant do past relevant work?

This step requires a Vocational Expert to discuss:

1. A claimant’s prior jobs,
2. Whether the jobs lasted long enough for the claimant to learn how to do them,
3. The demands of the job, and
4. The demands of the job as usually performed.

5. Can the claimant do other work?

Finally, if the ALJ finds that the claimant cannot perform one of his or her prior jobs, then with the help of the Vocational Expert, the ALJ will determine whether the claimant can do any job based on the claimant’s age, education, experience, and abilities in light of any impairment. 

A Vocational Expert is necessary to assist with virtually all of the determinations above. That is why a Vocational Expert is so important to the SSDI process. You, as a claimant, can hire your own Vocational Expert as well.  

OAS – Vocational Experts for Social Security Disability 

The experts at Occupational Assessment Services, Inc. (OAS) have over forty years of experience documenting the income potential and employment capacity of those with wrongful termination cases, as well as with the underemployed, unemployed, and disabled spouses in many types of cases

OAS specializes in working with the plaintiff or defense attorney to assist in objectively documenting the economics in a case. From the initial referral to the trial testimony, OAS works with the retaining attorney so that the vocational assessment of the case can be objectively and efficiently presented. 

We strongly believe in the importance of a clear and understandable presentation of the facts. OAS is the leading provider of Vocational Expert and Life Care Planning Services for Plaintiff and Defense attorneys. 

The company specializes in assisting attorneys in evaluating earning capacity in divorce cases and documenting the damages in cases where an individual has been severely injured by providing objective findings on how the injuries affect a persons’ ability to work and earn money, as well as the cost of care required in catastrophic injuries.

OAS is your Vocational Expert & Life Care Planner Nationwide, with offices in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Nevada, and California.  

Occupational Assessment Services, Inc. is one of the most experienced employability and life care planning firms in the United States.  To discuss your case, call us at 1-800-292-1919, contact us at a location near you, or through our online form.