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These days, more often than not, the hearing notice for a Social Security disability claim will specify that a vocational expert (VE) will testify at the hearing. This is often alarming for disability claimants, who are not clear about the role of a VE at a hearing. 

The vocational expert attends the hearing to assist the judge, by answering questions about a disability claimant's past work history and the type of jobs that may be available for those with functional limitations similar to the claimant's.

A VE can help the judge to reach a fully favorable decision. A VE can also offer testimony that helps a judge to deny a claim for disability benefits. In certain cases, such as those with a less-than sedentary RFC, VE testimony can be particularly problematic. Also, claims involving mental impairments often call for VE testimony.

How vocational evidence is used depends on the claim, the judge, and how the hearing develops. You never know in advance what the VE will say, which is one reason why a lawyer's help at a hearing is critical.

Nevertheless, the mere presence of a VE at the hearing should not be alarming for claimants. It has become a standard practice for many judges.