Over 10 million Americans qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in the United States. At least 7 million of those also receive for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). An individual’s ability to qualify for benefits has historically rested in the hands of a vocational witness to decide. This may change come Dec. 4 when the Supreme Court rules whether this is fair.
That day, they will hear the case of Biestek v. Berryhill. They’ll be asked to rule whether it was appropriate for an administrative law judge presiding over that matter to rely on a vocational witness’ testimony to make a decision to deny benefits. In this case, they did so without providing backing up their testimony with tangible data.
Legal analysts suggest that the decision that the justices make in this case has the potential of affecting how benefit eligibility decisions are rendered in the future.
Currently, the Social Security Administration (SSA) reviews applications and rejects claims made by those who aren’t severely impaired or who continue working. Next, they verify the remaining applications to see if the claimant indeed has a condition included on the “Listing of Impairments”.
Once that they determine that they do, the reviewer will look to see if the claimant has the ability to return to their “past relevant work”. If they’re found to be unable to do that or to take on any significant role, then it’s only then that they’re deemed as having a disability.
Workers who experience exertional impairments, or an inability to carry, walk, stand or lift may be deemed able to work in other roles depending on their education, age and work history. Cases involving non-exertional impairments are generally decided by the vocational witness, who often also works at a university studying labor trends or for an employment agency.
The testimony that a vocational witness provides is rarely challenged as most claimants go underrepresented or they have the wrong person testifying for them. Therefore, the decision that they make is generally seen as a final one.
Depending on the decision that the Supreme Court makes on Dec. 4, these vocational experts may face further scrutiny in the future. Applicants for these benefits may find that having a Knoxville Social Security Disability attorney representing their interests can help them avoid being denied benefits that they should rightfully qualify for.