I-2-5-48.Vocational Experts — General

Last Update: 6/16/16 (Transmittal I-2-174)

A vocational expert (VE) is a vocational professional who provides an impartial expert opinion during the hearings process on claims under title II and title XVI of the Social Security Act. The authority for VEs is set forth in 20 CFR 404.1566(e) and 416.966(e). See also Social Security Ruling 00-4p: Titles II and XVI: Use of Vocational Expert and Vocational Specialist Evidence, and Other Reliable Occupational Information on Disability Decisions.

Before scheduling the hearing, the assigned administrative law judge (ALJ) will review a case to determine whether a VE opinion is needed, using the instructions in Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law (HALLEX) manual I-2-5-50. A designee may also perform this task and make a recommendation to the ALJ. A VE provides an opinion by either testifying at a hearing (see HALLEX I-2-6-74) or providing a written response to interrogatories (see HALLEX I-2-5-57). See also HALLEX I-2-5-30.

The following general guidelines apply to an ALJ's use of a VE in the hearing proceedings:

  • Before the hearing, the ALJ (or designee) will provide the VE with copies of all evidence relating to the claimant's vocational history. If additional vocational evidence is received at the hearing, the ALJ will provide it to the VE for review before the VE testifies.

  • The ALJ may use a VE before, during, or after the hearing.

  • The ALJ must avoid any off-the-record discussion with the VE. If such a discussion occurs, the ALJ must summarize the discussion on the record at the hearing or by entering a written summary into the record as an exhibit.

  • All ALJ contact with a VE about a case must be in writing or on the record at a hearing, and all correspondence with the VE must be made part of the record.

  • The ALJ may not use a VE who has had prior professional contact with the claimant.

  • The ALJ may not ask a VE to provide an opinion on psychological (i.e., medical) matters even if the VE is a certified mental health professional. See HALLEX I-2-5-61.

  • The VE's opinion is not binding on the ALJ. The ALJ must weigh a VE's opinion along with all other evidence.