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Expert witnesses are people who are paid to attend disability hearings and give a professional opinion on your ability to return to work. There are two types – medical and vocational. They are contracted by the Social Security office.
Your hearing notice will state if a medical and/or vocational expert will be present at your hearing. The office keeps a panel of experts in both the medical and vocational fields that an Administrative Law Judge can choose to have at a hearing if he/she feels it will be helpful.
The medical expert witness will review your file, specifically the medical records, and give an opinion that you do or do not meet one of the qualified listed disabilities. The medical expert will either be a psychologist or a physician. The judge may ask the medical expert to help interpret medical evidence or clear up any discrepancies in the medical files, if there are any. The medical expert will give an opinion on your functional limitations for your past employment or how these limitations would affect future employment.
A vocational expert witness may be called to state which of your skills can be transferred to another job and what type of work is within your physical ability, education, age and previous work experience. They are there to identify what you were not able to do at your previous job and what you are still able to do for future jobs. The ALJ will ask the vocational expert whether or not you are able to do your former work given your limitations. The expert will also be asked what other jobs you would be able to hold with your current disability. After the judge finishes questioning the expert, you or your attorney will be able to ask questions. If you can prove that you are unable to do the job(s) that the expert suggested, then you will stand a better chance of winning your case.
Expert witnesses – both medical and vocational – have strong opinions. Although they are hired to be impartial, some come across as being biased. These expert witnesses can have a big impact on whether or not you win your disability claim. If you see that you will have a medical or vocational expert witness at your hearing, be prepared to speak about why you are not able to perform your line of work, and what limitations you have that may prevent you from doing other jobs.