Welcome back! Today our focus is to talk through the next level of understanding the content in the Social Security Administration’s Vocational Expert (SSAVE) Handbook. Along the way, we’ll adapt or actually apply some of that key terminology from our the last article and video to the nuts and bolts of what you’re going to do as a SSA VE.
As a reminder of what we talked about last week, the terminology is critical to establishing a baseline for becoming an SSAVE. The next level above that baseline is actually understanding what the role entails. The SSAVE Handbook covers the baseline of that role overall and you’ll start to quickly understand that everything that the SSAVE Handbook gives you is only more of a checklist and a description…but not really a “how to.”
The SSAVE Handbook covers such situations as determining initial disability for Title II and Title XVI cases for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and then breaks down the actual five step sequential evaluation process used to determine disability (according to the SSA) and where the vocational expert really has a part to play. SSAVEs also play a role in determining continuing disability and/or redeterminations for youth that were classified as disabled, but then hit the age of 18.
Regardless of where you fit in this process, the actual application of what you do on a continuing basis as a SSA vocational expert really remains the same.
The next section in the SSAVE Handbook really starts breaking down that application for you through various issues such as vocational factors and understanding where age, education, and work experience play a part in the actual process of determining disability. SSA VE guidelines regarding disability become a critical factor with what you do on a day-to-day basis – as well as exertional categories and skill levels that claimants have picked up or are capable of accomplishing.
These limitating factors then establish a baseline for what is known as residual functional capacity (RFC) and where that skill level and overall exertional category applies to the disability situation for said claimant.
When you combine these inputs together, they go into what is presented to you in every single hearing in the form of a hypothetical question. These hypotheticals are given to you by the administrative law judge (ALJ). The RFC delivered in the hypothetical is determined by a combination of factors…the DDS determination, the state Disability Determination Services, the claimant testimony, medical evidence, and vocational factors…including the onset date, past 15 years of work, claimant age, and education. The RFC is then presented to the VE as a hypothetical person. The standard number of hypotheticals the ALJ will present are three. Howver, this number varies depending on the evidence presented. This data then may elevate to determining transferability of skills, which depends on age, and whether they can continue to do past relevant work or whether they could actually transfer those skills into some new occupation in competitive employment.
The SSAVE Handbook then closes with understanding or relating to you the Social Security Ruling 00-4P which is your testimony, how it is overall supported by proven data in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, and then the rules that are governed by the Social Security Administration.
Another form of hearing is called an interrogatory. This item is covered as a written form of testimony, where you as the SSAVE have actually more time to do research and provide a thought out reply. Once complete, you then submit that to the Social Security Administration to support remand type hearings or possibly post-hearing updates where additional information is requested by the ALJ to make a final determination. There are also interrogatories that will not involve a formal hearing. The need for information all varies based upon each claimant’s situation.
Overall, you can tell that the SSAVE Handbook is a great start and a great place of source information for the basics and for you to go back to make sure you understand the terminology and the nuts and bolts of what a vocational expert does on a day-to-day basis. But at the end of the day that’s it… it’s more of a checklist …. more of a guide …. more of a reference than an actual “how to”.
The “How to” or the real training comes either on the job or via some type of formal training program. This could involve learning from a colleague who is willing to spend some time with you to teach you the basics. There are few avenues and tons of resources, but it becomes very confusing to a new SSAVE. Thus, most SSAVEs just jump in and hope they figure it out and survive. Not really a good way to go about it! The last thing an SSAVE wants is an ALJ determining that the testimony is not credible and removing them from the case. It can impact the ability for the SSAVE to be scheduled in future hearings. The ALJs talk among themselves and the various hearing offices. It is important to know your stuff or your credibility can diminish quite rapidly and your new career go down the tubes.
A formal training process is the best investment in your new-found career direction. The VELaunchpad was developed with all these factors in mind. I know from experience how scary it is at the beginning with limited knowledge of the process and what really is expedited. The VELaunchpad provides you with all the tools and tricks to the trade to become a successful and credible vocational expert with SSA. You also can actually earn pre-approved CEU credits along the way towards the ABVE and or the CRC!
Remember we’ll be here every week to keep this series going – let’s start learning together!!!