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Ask Atticus: The VE Said I Could Do 3 Jobs. What Does That Mean?

Written by
Sarah Aitchison
December 14, 2022  ·  3 min read

Dear Atticus,

I have ulcerative colitis that’s gotten worse in recent years and makes it hard for me to do the work I used to do. I applied for disability benefits and my first application was denied, so I appealed. At the hearing, the vocational expert said I could do three jobs. What does that mean? Is that a good or bad thing? Will the judge deny my case because the VE said I could do three jobs? I need these SSDI benefits soon because the bills are piling up and I can’t work anymore. Should I be worried? What are my chances of winning benefits?


Starting to Panic

Dear Starting to Panic,

We know the disability application process is long and stressful, but it’s important not to panic about what the vocational expert said. If the VE at your hearing thinks you can work one or more jobs, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get denied. Similarly, if the vocational expert said there are a certain number of open positions for those jobs, the judge may still approve your benefits.

Only the judge can approve or deny your benefits and they’ll make the final decision based on your overall case — not just what the VE said. In 2022, judge’s approved just over 50% of cases after a hearing.

The role of the vocational expert at a disability hearing

At your disability hearing, the vocational expert (VE) is a neutral witness who provides information to the judge about jobs available in the labor market. The VE will also answer questions about the skills and mental or physical demands needed to perform various jobs.

Understanding the vocational expert’s testimony

The judge will ask the vocational expert whether someone with your health condition or similar limitations could hypothetically do any work available in the current job market. (Even though they’re really discussing your case, the VE and judge talk in hypothetical questions.)

In addition to the number of jobs the vocational expert says you could hypothetically do, it’s important to consider how many positions they believe are available.

For example, if the VE thinks you could perform one job and it currently has 10,000 open positions in your regional economy, the judge may deny your claim because they think you could reasonably get a job and return to work.

But if the VE thinks there are three jobs you could potentially do and each has just 500 open positions (1,500 total openings) the judge may approve your claim because even though they think you could return to work, it would be much harder for you to actually find that type of work.

In an ideal situation, if the vocational expert says there are available jobs you could do, you’ll have a disability lawyer who can push back. Lawyers are experienced in questioning VEs in order to make a strong case that you wouldn’t actually be able to do the jobs mentioned (because of your physical limitations, absences due to medical issues, or another reason).

What happens after the hearing

After your disability hearing, the judge will make their final decision in one to three months.

If they approve your claim, congratulations! You’ll receive your first Social Security disability check within 60 days. This first payment includes all of your back pay — a lump sum that includes the disability benefits you would have received if your claim had been approved earlier.

You’ll either get back pay covering the time between the onset of your disability and the time you were first approved for benefits, or the time between when you applied for disability, and the time you were first approved for benefits. (The SSA does exclude five months’ worth of benefits to cover normal application processing time.)

What if the judge denies my claim?

If the administrative law judge denies your claim for disability, it’s possible to appeal this decision. You have 60 days from the denial to submit an appeal. Your case will then be reviewed by the Appeals Council.

At this point, you should absolutely get a disability lawyer. Applicants with lawyers are three times more likely to win their claims. (Plus, you won’t have to pay anything unless you win your case.) Get matched with an experienced lawyer today.

Why you need a disability lawyer

A lawyer will help gather the information and paperwork you need and prepare you for SSA questions. If you have a hearing, a good disability lawyer will meet with you beforehand to explain what will happen and get you ready. They’ll also be at the hearing to ask questions, provide support, and cross-examine the vocational expert.

Lawyers know how to build a strong case for you and if you’ve already been denied once, their expertise will be a massive help.

If you need to apply for benefits again (you can apply for disability as many times as you want) your lawyer will advise you on how to improve your medical evidence or collect other proof needed to convince the SSA you qualify for benefits.

How to get a lawyer for your disability hearing

If you’re looking for an experienced, skilled lawyer that you can trust, Atticus can help you. We have a network of vetted attorneys who can help you win the disability benefits you deserve. To get started, take our short disability quiz to give us more information about your situation. Someone from our team will reach out to you. We can offer legal advice at no cost and get you paired up with a lawyer within 48 hours if you’re ready to go.

The disability benefit process is complicated. We make it easy.

See what you qualify for

How long has your condition made it hard to work?

Sarah Aitchison


Sarah is an attorney at Atticus Law, P.C. Prior to joining Atticus, she was a civil public defender in Brooklyn, NY and a business reporter in Seattle, WA. She is a graduate of the University of Washington School of Law.
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