Becoming A Medical Expert

Social Security uses Medical Experts (MEs) to provide evidence at hearings before an administrative law judge (ALJ). MEs provide services for SSA under a BPA to provide expert witness services for the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO).

As a ME, you will provide impartial expert opinion evidence that an ALJ considers when making a decision about disability. You will review the provided exhibits prior to the scheduled hearing. You will usually testify in person at a hearing, although you may be asked to testify by video teleconferencing (VTC) or by telephone, and sometimes you may provide opinions in writing by answering written questions called interrogatories.

All interested vendors must register and apply through FedConnect in order to be considered for a Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) with the Social Security Administration. The website address is

What Happens at a Hearing?

The ALJ will ask you questions before you testify to establish your independence and impartiality, and your medical qualifications and competence to testify. The ALJ will question you and the claimant and his or her representative may also question you. The ALJ has the authority to determine the propriety of any questions asked. The hearing will be recorded. After the hearing, the ALJ will consider all the evidence and issue a written decision. The ALJ may also ask you to answer written questions called interrogatories if supplemental information is needed.

Role of the Medical Expert

The ALJ’s primary reason for seeking the advice of a ME is to gain a better understanding of the medical evidence in the case. A ME provides both factual and expert opinion evidence based on knowledge of SSA’s rules. You should be familiar with:

  • What a medically determinable impairment is, and SSA’s definitions of symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings
  • SSA’s requirement to consider the combined effects of impairments
  • SSA’s Listing of Impairments (commonly referred to as the “listings”)
  • SSA’s definitions of “meeting” and “medically equaling” specific listings
  • The concept of residual functional capacity (RFC) for all cases except SSI child cases, including the types of evidence and the kinds of physical and mental work-related limitations SSA considers in assessing RFC.
  • In cases involving SSI claimants under age 18, the area(s) of pediatric medicine appropriate to the claim, typical child development and functioning, and SSA’s policy of “functionally equaling the listings."
  • SSA’s concept of “duration” of disability

You will provide evidence by answering questions posed by the ALJ, the claimant, and the claimant’s representative. You may answer questions about medical issues that could be decisive in a case, such as whether a claimant’s impairment(s) meets or medically equals a specific listing. You may also answer questions which ask for your medical opinion about the nature and severity of a claimant’s impairment(s).

You will rarely have the opportunity to question the claimant directly during the hearing. If you have any questions—e.g., about an aspect of a claimant’s testimony—or if you need more information, you should inform the ALJ. The ALJ will decide whether the information is pertinent and how it should be elicited. The ALJ may ask the question himself or herself or allow you to ask the question. You should never conduct any type of physical or mental status examination of the claimant during the hearing, and should refuse to perform such an examination if asked.

The Medical Expert Handbook provides the basic information you will need when you participate in ALJ hearings. The handbook explains Social Security’s disability programs, the appeals process we use, your role and responsibilities, and technical information you must know.

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