Social Security Administration Hopes to Improve its List of Occupational Titles for Use in Disability Claims

November 10,2015
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I had the pleasure of giving a Seminar on Social Security Disability Rights a couple of weeks ago.
In response to a question about who is present at a hearing, I mentioned the possibility that in addition to the Administrative Law Judge, the claimant and myself, it is possible that a medical expert and/or a vocational expert would be present. I explained that the role of the Vocational Expert is to identify jobs that exist in the national economy that a hypothetical person with the claimant’s limitations might be able to perform. Then I told the story of a recent hearing that I had, where the Vocational Expert identified the job of a Pneumatic Tube Operator! This job, which is basically that of a mail sorter, existed in large numbers 40 or 50 years ago. However, today the vocation of Pneumatic Tube Operator has been superseded by mail sorters, intra-office delivery people, intra-office computer messaging, and email. While I have seen pneumatic tubes in drive-through banks and pharmacies and at the Home Depot, people tend to use these systems while performing their ‘real’ jobs, whether as bank tellers, pharmacists or cashiers. This brings me to my point.

This morning I received an email from the National Organization of Social Security Representatives (NOSSCR) reporting that the Social Security Administration was investigating options moving away from the Department of Labor’s “Dictionary of Occupational Titles” (where Pneumatic Tube Operator was an active job title). The problem is that the O*NET, which is the replacement product that the Department of Labor uses for their own purposes, works for them but does not meet Social Security’s needs.

To that end, SSA has promulgated “Plans and Methods for Developing a Content Model,” to work through the problems they see in describing jobs, and to figure out just what the physical and cognitive expectations of various jobs are and how best to present that information, so that fact finders at Social Security have all the information they need to fairly and efficiently assess claims for Disability.

Members of NOSSCR have been asked to offer input and discuss how problems presented by the aging ” Dictionary of Occupational Titles” (such as listing obsolete jobs) should be addressed. I look forward to offering my thoughts as this process progresses, and I hope that the final product adopted by the Social Security Administration will be more in line with the realities of the modern job market.

Gabe Hermann