In the last post we introduced what Social Security Administration Vocational Experts (SSAVE) are, what kind of requirements must be met to enter the profession, and some of the items that a SSAVE would do on a normal basis as part of their impartial witness duties.
While those requirements increased for the latest iteration of SSA contracts (specifically the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor/American Board of Vocational Experts requirement), the need to inject a higher level of professionalism was also commensurate with the increased need for numbers of SSAVEs. The 164 Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) and 2 satellite hearing offices servicing the continental United States, Guam, Puerto Rico and American Samoa continue to increase handling the numbers of claimants for SSDI (Social Security Disability Income) and SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits. The level of demand also leads to a backlog of cases arising from inability to physically manage the sheer volume…couple this with the COVID crisis and you see the potential for even more backlogs and follow on delays in claimant decisions, regardless of Congressional appropriations meant to reduce the backlog. Ultimately, this means the need for professional SSAVEs isn’t going anywhere…rather that the need will continue to grow!
In order to get those SSAVEs, the SSA issues a Blanket Purchase Agreement contract for award (recently renewed in 2020 for 5 years). Awardees included a significant number of individuals and companies with a long history of SSAVE work. There was, however, an influx of new awardees due to the new CRC/ABVE and direct experience requirements. While this population change serves to raise the level of education behind these BPA holders…it also dilutes the knowledge and experience level of the SSAVE population writ large.
This reduction in capability comes from losing a base of experienced SSAVEs who don’t meet one of the certification requirements – mainly due to having Vocational Placement vs Vocational Rehabilitation backgrounds….which is interesting since the main function of an SSAVE to talk job numbers in the national economy (as we’ll see later).
SSA requirements also have SSAVEs meet other needs particular to SSA functions. Navigating claimant folders via the Electronic Records Express, demonstrating a clear understanding of the Five Step Sequential process and the SSAVEs role in it, and being able to conduct and present answers to hypothetical individuals dealing with disabilities make the role of the SSAVE even more important. This means these individuals need a common baseline of education for the SSAVE function itself. Even more important is the different players and their part in the process that each SSAVE must understand.