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Supreme Court will determine an important issue in SSI hearings

In a rare event, an issue in a Social Security Disability case will be heard by the US Supreme Court. As the issue involves the common practice of utilizing the testimony of a vocational expert, the Supreme Court ruling will have a substantial impact on disability claims for those in Sacramento, California, and throughout the country.

When an individual applies for Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI), the Social Security Administration (SSA) follows a sequential process to determine whether a person is entitled to benefits. These steps include whether the person is working, whether the claimant has a medical condition or combination of conditions that limits employment, and whether the person can perform past relevant work.

In cases where a person cannot perform past relevant work due to a disability, SSA must then inquire as to whether other jobs in the national economy exist that the claimant can perform. To do so, SSA will retain a vocational expert. At the hearing level, the judge will provide a hypothetical list of impairments and ask if, given these impairments, jobs are present in which the claimant can perform. Experts rely on data from the Department of Labor and other sources. The claimant or the claimant's representative is permitted to cross examine the expert.

In the case before the Court, the claimant's representative asked the expert to disclose the sources relied on in forming the basis of her opinion. The expert refused, and the judge refused to require the expert to do so. The issue before the Court is the scope of cross examination of an expert appointed by the SSA. Oral arguments were set to be heard on December 4.

The issue demonstrates how complex a SSDI claim may be. There are medical records, employment records, a multitude of comprehensive SSA regulations and, in many cases, expert testimony to review. These obstacles can overwhelm a disabled claimant. In this situation, the services of an experienced disability attorney can make the difference in the success of the claim.

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