Thursday, August 15, 2013

Vocational Experts, Trains, Automobiles, and Lies

Well really, just the first and the last.  Vocational experts are called upon by the Social Security Administration to tell us whether a claimant can perform either his past relevant work or any other work that exists in the national economy given assumptions of residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.  The vocational experts then have to state how many of such jobs exist in the regional, other regions, or national economy. 

I agree that vocational experts are trained to express the first set of opinions.  Whether a person can or cannot perform a specific job given well-defined limitations and capacities -- that is the stuff that vocational experts (VE) as rehabilitation specialists are trained to perform.  But the VE don't really do that job very well on the whole.  SSA issued Social Security Ruling (SSR) 00-4p 13 years ago to address the problem of rogue VE that would contradict published data in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and its companion publications without admitting to the deviation, explaining the deviation, or having any good basis or reason for the deviation.  This happens because of negligence, recklessness, disregard for the truth, or prevarication.  In the vernacular, we call that last categories "lies." 

I start with the premise that VE will get the requirements of work wrong a statistically significant percentage of the time.  I base this assumption on 28 years of experience in thousands of SS disability hearings, thousands of SS disability appeals to the United States District Court, and something in the range of 150 appeals to the United States Court of Appeals, and the Commissioner of Social Security's perception that the ruling was necessary at all. 

But VE do not just stop at stating whether a person can perform his past relevant work and other work, VE must state the incidence of that other work in the regional, multi-regional, or national economy.  This is not a matter of expertise, it is an objective fact that does not take an expert.  It takes a lot of time and a clicker.  In the alternative, it takes statistical extrapolation from a relevant data set to estimate the numbers of jobs in the aggregate.  Think exit polling.  If the pollsters get a random sample of voters leaving the polls that fairly represents the demographics of the voting pool as a whole, the pollsters can extrapolate that data to project a winner in tonight's vote tally.  Same process of statistical extrapolation works here. 

That is the problem.  The VE aren't trained to know, don't have the experience to know, aren't paid to know, and just don't know how many jobs there are in any given occupational classification.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) keeps occupational group numbers.  Given the lack of pay, lack of incentive, and the complete disregard of the average Administrative Law Judge to insist on better, most VE will give a complete OES/SOC/Census Code number aggregation of jobs as if it represented jobs exclusively in one DOT code. 

Example:  OES group 51-9199 represents 218,000 jobs in the national economy according to the BLS extrapolation.  The VE identify an occupation within that classification and state that the DOT code represents 200,000 or 20,000 jobs in that classification in the nation.  Do you believe 200,000?  Do you believe 20,000 or 10% of the total fall into that classification?  Would it matter if I told you that group 51-9199 represents over 1500 DOT codes at all ranges of exertion and at all skill levels?  Does it matter to you that unskilled work has been automated or shipped overseas in the past 10, 20, or 30 years?  Does it matter to you that the VE can offer no, absolutely zero, justification for the number beyond describing the size and shade of their own personal black box?  Well it should. 

People on the cusp of disability have their cases adjudicated at the "other work" question.  Can that person engage in "substantial gainful activity" meaning full-time work in light of his age, education, and work experience.  When VE testify negligently, recklessly, with disregard for the ascertainable truth, or with intent to prevaricate in their heart, they damage the integrity of the largest adjudicative body in the world.  VE make disability adjudication a lottery based on the willingness of the VE to just make it up. 

Note to the VE out there:  stop it. 


  1. Sounds like quite the law firm. I hope you guys do great in your business ventures. I know the local social security attorney in Chicago, IL is really professional. I assume that you guys would be too.

  2. I hope one day to be able to start up a firm like this. I would love to work as a social security disability lawyer in Cincinnati. I know I have a long time before I get there though.