Many individuals who file for disability mistakenly believe that because they are not capable of performing their past job, they must qualify for disability through the Social Security Administration (SSA). Unfortunately, this simply isn’t the case.

The Social Security disability program was not designed to provide injured or ill individuals with financial compensation because they became unable to perform the duties of the jobs they are used to. Instead, the benefits are intended to assist individuals who are unable to perform the required work at any job for which they are qualified, and therefore are unable to achieve substantial gainful activity. At the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing, this is where a vocational expert comes in.

While some disability claims are approved because the claimant meets the level of severity required for one of the SSA’s conditions in their Listing of Impairments, others must continue to step 4 of the evaluation process. It is during this step that the first part of the vocational analysis is performed. A vocational expert will evaluate the disabled individual’s current ability to perform the tasks required by work that the individual performed in the past 15 years. If it is decided that the claimant is unable to perform the duties of “past, relevant work”, the evaluation process will move to step 5. During this step, the expert will help the ALJ determine what, if any, jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant is capable of performing.

In order to complete the evaluation process during the ALJ hearing, the vocational expert will consider a variety of factors including:

  • The applicant’s age
  • The educational background of the individual
  • The past, relevant work of the claimant
  • Residual Functioning Capacity (RFC) which includes an evaluation of the mental and physical limitations of the individual

The vocational expert at an ALJ hearing does not take into consideration whether the applicant would actually be hired at a specific job, whether jobs exist in the immediate area, or whether the disabled individual wishes to perform certain types of work. He or she merely evaluates whether there are jobs that exist that the disabled individual could perform. In most cases, if it is determined that an individual is capable of either performing past, relevant work, or that there are other jobs that he or she can perform, the claim will be denied.