Vocational expert (VE) testimony has been in the news lately, so I thought I would provide a refresher on vocational terminology to start off the new year. Sometimes, I repeat terms out of habit without fully understanding the meaning. Therefore, I decided to take a minute to refresh my memory and/or get a better understanding of common vocational terminology. Fully understanding terminology is important when drafting briefs or crafting arguments for an ALJ hearing. SSA has provided an updated list of definitions in the SSA’s Medical and Vocational Quick Reference Guide.
Below are some terms that I often use when evaluating PRW at step 4 and transferable skills or other work at step 5.
Transferable Skills: Skills obtained from performing past relevant skilled or semiskilled work that a Claimant can use to adjust to the requirements of other skilled or semiskilled work that falls within the Claimant’s RFC.
I find this issue is frequently relevant when Claimant is 50 and older and would grid-out under the Medical-Vocational Rules. SSA adjudicators will often try to find Claimant has transferable skills to avoid using the Medical-Vocational Rule that directs a finding of disability.
SVP: The amount of time required for a typical claimant to learn techniques, acquire information, and develop the facility needed for average performance in a job.
SVP is different than reasoning level; reasoning level involves education that allows for satisfactory job performance and ability to follow instructions. SVP addresses time and should be distinct from reasoning level during vocational expert testimony.
Erosion of the Occupational Base: Significant erosion is a considerable reduction in the available occupations at a particular exertional level. Usually, we use a lower exertional rule as a framework for a decision when there is a significant erosion in the occupational base.
Slight erosion is a minimal impact in the available occupations at an exertional level. Where there is only slight erosion of an occupational base, do not use a lower level exertional rule as a framework for a determination.
Often a sit/stand option at will reduces the number of jobs available in an occupational base. As a best practice, I will be asking the VE more often if the reduction in numbers is a considerable/significant or minimal/slight erosion. A significant reduction is important because it may support using a sedentary Medical-Vocational Rule rather than light and result in a favorable decision. There is not a clear description of what considerable or minimal erosion is exactly; thus, I will ask the VE to determine is the erosion is considerable (significant) or minimal (slight).
Job: A position within a work site with significant tasks.
Occupation: A group of jobs in many different worksites with a common set of tasks.
Occupational Base: The number of unskilled occupations that a claimant is capable of performing.
I remind myself that a ‘job’ is different than an ‘occupation’ in the realm of SSA disability law. At steps 4 and 5, there are jobs within an occupation and the total numbers of occupations is the occupational base.
Composite Job: Work that required significant elements of two or more occupations and that has no counterpart in the DOT.
I look for composite jobs because Claimant must be able to perform all aspects of the job to be found able to perform PRW at step 4. Showing that Claimant has performed a composite job may be the difference in a finding of disability.
Framework: A medical-vocational determination that uses the Medical-Vocational Rules as adjudicative guidance because the RFC or a vocational factor does not match a rule.
Most of the time, an RFC includes both exertional and nonexertional limitations that does not match perfectly in the full range of an exertional limitation under the Medical-Vocational Rules. Fortunately, if the table of Medical-Vocational Rules does not ‘direct’ a finding of disability, an ALJ can still use the same rule to find Claimant is disabled under a ‘framework’ analysis.
Equipping ourselves with a complete and/or better understanding of vocational terminology is essential to our success as advocates. It also allows us to collaborate better with VEs and ALJs at disability hearings and when drafting briefs to the Appeals Council or district courts.