The 4th and 5th Steps of the 5-Step Sequential Disability Determination Process: Part 2 - DOT

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Attorney licensed in Indiana
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At the fourth of the five-step sequential disability determination, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") relies on VE testimony on a limited basis; at the fifth step, however, the SSA relies heavily on testimony from the VE who forms his or her opinion after reviewing the disability claimant's records and data in the DOT. This testimony is crucial because neither the ALJ nor the claimant possess the ability to analyze the exertion or skill required by particular employment positions, because the categories in the DOT are organized in an exceedingly technical fashion.  Thus, VE testimony serves as the foundational building block of the SSA disability determination process, because, without it, a complete, accurate, and reasonable decision would not be possible.
2. The Dictionary of Occupational Titles.
The DOT is a publication of the U.S. Department of Labor that provides basic occupational information by classifying jobs into occupations based on their similarities and also defining the structure and content of all listed occupations. Interestingly, this source was last modified twenty-five years ago, and the latest edition, the Fourth Edition, of the DOT was last updated in 1991. In addition, the United States Department of Commerce (U.S. Census Bureau) has replaced the DOT with the Standard Occupational Classification ("SOC").  Because the DOT is obsolete, a link no longer exists between Census Codes and the DOT, which means that no useful source of job information provides data for the titles in the DOT. 
Furthermore, many jobs listed in the DOT no longer exist and many jobs that now exist are not yet listed in the archaic DOT.  Nonetheless, a VE often attempts to categorize a claimant's previous work using a ratio of equivalencies to jobs listed.  Essentially, a VE must statistically break down the source data to estimate the number of jobs available in the appropriate categories of the DOT.  This is a complicated endeavor, and if a VE has not received education or training in occupational analysis, then the VE's qualifications and testimony lack reliability.  The claimant additionally faces an uphill battle if the claimant wishes to challenge the reliability of the DOT because the SSA relies so heavily on the DOT and both the fourth and fifth steps of the sequential process are entwined with data found in the DOT.  To understand the intricate roles that the VE and the DOT play at the fourth and fifth steps, it is essential to have a solid understanding of these steps.  

Additional Resources

To read more, please follow the below link to my article published in the Valparaiso University Law Review.


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