Becoming A Vocational Expert

Social Security uses Vocational Experts (VEs) to provide evidence at hearings before an administrative law judge (ALJ). VEs provide services for SSA under a BPA to provide expert witness services for the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR).

As a VE, 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 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 Vocational Expert

ALJs use VEs in many cases in which they must determine whether a claimant can do his or her previous work or other work. A VE provides both factual and expert opinion evidence based on knowledge of:

  • The skill level and physical and mental demands of occupations
  • The characteristics of work settings
  • The existence and incidence of jobs within occupations
  • Transferrable skills analysis and SSA regulatory requirements for transferability of work skills
You should have:
  • Up-to-date knowledge of, and current experience with, industrial and occupational trends and local labor market conditions
  • An understanding of how we determine whether a claimant is disabled especially at steps 4 and 5 of the sequential evaluation process
  • Current and extensive experience obtained from being actively engaged as a principal, employee or private consultant in counseling and the actual job placement of adult handicapped people
  • Current knowledge and use of a variety of vocational reference sources, including:

You will provide evidence by answering questions posed by the ALJ and the claimant or the claimant’s representative. Questions will typically be framed based on hypothetical findings of age, education, work experience, and functional limitations. You may answer questions about issues that could be decision in a case, such as whether a claimant could still do his or her previous work given hypothetical findings about functional limitations an ALJ will provide you. You should never comment on medical matters, such as what you believe the medical evidence indicates about the claimant’s diagnosis or the functional limitations caused by the claimant’s impairment(s) (SSA’s term for medical conditions), or whether you believe the claimant is disabled.

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.

ODAR developed a Vocational Expert orientation package which provides basic introductory information you will need when you participate in ALJ hearings. The orientation package and VE Handbook explain Social Security’s disability programs, the appeals process we use and your role and responsibilities.

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