Vocational Issues in Social Security Disability Determination

There are a limited number of vocational issues in a Social Security disability case. They are:

1. What are the physical and mental demands of the claimant’s past relevant work as the claimant performed it?

A vocational expert (VE) is probably not necessary to answer this question. A Social Security regulation provides that “statements by the claimant regarding past work are generally sufficient for determining the skill level, exertional demands and nonexertional demands of such work.”

However, if a vocational expert is present at the hearing, the VE will probably be asked to describe your past relevant work. The regulations provide that a “vocational expert or specialist may offer relevant evidence within his or her expertise or knowledge concerning the physical and mental demands of a claimant’s past relevant work, either as the claimant actually performed it or as generally performed in the national economy. Such evidence may be helpful in supplementing or evaluating the accuracy of the claimant’s description of his past work.”

2. What are the physical and mental demands of the claimant’s former job as generally required by employers throughout the national economy?

This issue comes up if you are unable to do any past job as the you actually performed it, but a past job involved functional demands and job duties significantly in excess of those generally required for that job by other employers.

You will be found not disabled if you retain the capacity to perform the job as ordinarily required by employers throughout the national economy.

3. Can the claimant meet the demands of the claimant’s previous work, either as the claimant actually performed it or as generally performed in the national economy?

The regulations provide that “a vocational expert or specialist may offer expert opinion testimony in response to a hypothetical question about whether a person with the physical and mental limitations imposed by the claimant’s medical impairment(s) can meet the demands of the claimant’s previous work, either as the claimant actually performed it or as generally performed in the national economy.”

4. Does the claimant have skills that are transferable to a significant range of work?

The issue of transferability of work skills is a complicated one made relevant in some cases by the Medical-Vocational Guidelines.

This issue does not come up very often.

Even if it is determined that there are no transferable skills, younger claimants may be denied benefits based upon the capacity for unskilled work. In those cases involving claimants age 50 and over where transferability matters, there are different standards based on age for determining whether or not skills are transferable.

5. Is the claimant capable of performing other work? Do jobs exist in significant numbers within the claimant’s RFC considering age, education and work experience? That is, is vocational adjustment possible to other work?

This issue includes the questions: For a literate, English speaking claimant under age 50, how many jobs are available to a claimant with a particular residual functional capacity? For the rest, how much of the claimant’s occupational base has been eroded by his or her impairments?

These issues come up when the Medical-Vocational Guidelines do not direct a conclusion that you are or are not disabled.

For the Medical-Vocational Guidelines to be used, your RFC, education and work experience must coincide with the criteria of one of the rules in the Guidelines. Where there is no close fit between your characteristics and the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, the Guidelines must be used as a framework for determining the interaction of your remaining occupational base with the other factors affecting capability for occupational adjustment—age, education and work experience.

The Americans With Disabilities Act Has Different Requirements

A memorandum to staff and judges from the Associate Commissioner of the Social Security Administration emphasized that the ADA and the disability provisions of the Social Security Act have different purposes, and have no direct application to one another. For example, the ADA defines “disability” in relation to the ability to perform what it describes as “major life activities.” Therefore, the term is not synonymous with “disability” as defined in the Social Security Act..