History of SSA During the Johnson Administration 1963-1968



Since the inception of the disability program, the Social Security Administration has recognized that consideration must be given to vocational factors in evaluating disability. In the early days of the program, there was little documentation or assessment of vocational factors. However, over the years, there has been increased emphasis directed not only as to the weight to be given these factors but also as to the necessity of more comprehensive documentation.

In June 1960 a decision was rendered by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals which materially changed both the administrative and judicial approach to disability cases. The court held that a denial of disability benefits could not be sustained on the "mere theoretical ability" to engage in substantial gainful activity. Rather, held the court, where a claimant for disability benefits has presented evidence to show that he is precluded from engaging in his usual, prior, or customary occupations, there is a burden on the administrative agency to produce evidence showing what other work, if any, he can still do and what employment opportunities in such work are available to him. This landmark case was Kerner V. Flemming and the requirements enunciated by the court have become known as the "Kerner criteria."

Initially, the Social Security Administration attempted to meet these requirements by citing selected government and industrial studies. These studies showed the results of surveys reflecting information that individuals with certain impairments were presently, or had been in the past, engaged in various types of occupations in American Industry. This approach was soon rejected by various courts as being speculative and theoretical in determining whether there were employment opportunities available to disability claimants who were unable to perform their usual jobs. To overcome this criticism, the Social Security Administration decided to employ vocational experts at administrative hearings, at which time these expert witnesses would address their testimony to the claimant's particular and highly individual situation in an effort to satisfy the Kerner criteria.

Assistance in establishing the vocational expert program was obtained from the American Psychological Association and the American Personnel and Guidance Association, at a conference held in Washington, D. C., June 25, 1962, with representatives of these organizations and the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals, criteria for selection of vocational experts and rosters of professional personnel who would most likely meet the criteria for selection were agreed upon. Approximately 600 vocational experts have entered into contracts with the Department providing for their appearance as expert witnesses at disability hearings.

The progress toward development of vocational guides in adjudicationquickened with the inception of the Work Group on Non-medical Factors. The agenda of the fourth meeting of his group, held in Baltimore on March 10, 1964, was representative of the wide range of activities of the group.

The discussion covered the use of vocational consultants in hearing cases, the use of diagnostic work evaluation centers, and the referralof disability claimants for rehabilitation and placement services. These activities are all established parts of the disability program today.

In the December following the meeting, a project was initiated to study court decisions in disability cases. A task force was organized to carry out an intensive study and make recommendations. The task force report, released in February 1966, made 10 recommendations relating to vocational assessment. One of the key recommendations was the establishment of special vocational staffs in the Bureau of Disability Insurance and State agencies to provide consultant services on a case basis. This recommendation was endorsed by the special advisory group.

Efforts were extended in many directions to meet the challenges of the growing emphasis on vocational criteria and the resulting complexity in evaluating the interaction of vocational factors with the severity of the impairment. These activities were directed toward determining the most effective means of identifying and securing pertinent vocational information, appraising its significance, selecting the best methods of documentation and evaluation, refining the contents of vocational evaluation guides, maintaining valid, realistic and generally acceptable criteria consistent with program objectives, and insuring consistent and technically proficient applications of these guides by State agency evaluators and Bureau of Disability Insurance reviewers. The task force recommendation, as endorsed by the special advisory group, that BDI establish a vocational specialist staff to provide consultative services to operating personnel in the Bureau of Disability Insurance and in the State agencies was put into effect.

Accordingly, the Vocational Consultant Staff came into being in 1966. It was made a part of the Disability Policy Branch, Division of Disability Policy and Procedures, Bureau of Disability Insurance. The initial training class for vocational consultants composed of eight members from BDI and 7 State agency members was conducted during the period October 17-23, 1966, in Baltimore. Subsequent training classes were conducted for representatives from all except two State agencies.

The basic function of the Vocational Consultant Staff is to provide definitive guidance in the adjudication of cases which require consideration of the vocational factors of age, education, training and work experience. (See exhibit 2.) Specific functions of the Vocational Consultant Staff include the following activities:

1. Provide consultation on case problems to insure that casesrequiring consideration of vocational factors are properly identified, developed, evaluated and documented;

2. Review selected disability determinations in cases involving vocational factors to insure that such determinations reflect pertinent evidence and documentation; sequential analysis; the relative probative value of all pertinent evidence; and explicit resolution of all pertinent issues, including opinion evidence; substantiation of inferences; with a resultant decision. in conformity with law, administrative policies and guides;

3. Provide in appropriate cases a written vocational analysis explaining the meaning and weight to be given vocational evidence, its interaction with the medical and other evidence and its overall impact on the claimant's ability to engage in substantial gainful activity. This kind of analysis requires the synthesis of evidence and concepts;

4. Provide guidance in determining the availability of work the claimant can do in the labor market, considering the claimant's functional and vocational limitation;

5. Serve as a resource for disability evaluations in the proper use of special vocational reference publications and source material, such as the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and related volumes, the County Business Patterns, U. S. Census tabulations, and other sources of data on the physical and vocational requirements of jobs and of the availability of the jobs in the economy, locally and regionally.

The 1967 amendments,provided a statutory commitment to the role of vocational factors in the disability program. In the years immediately preceding the passage of the amendments, the relationship of vocational issues and disability was the subject of extensive investigation and consultation between representatives of public and private organizations. The Bureau of Disability Insurance's primary objectives were the refinement of the guides and procedures for vocational development and the establishment of adjudicative criteria which would reflect the interaction of medical and vocational factors. Efforts to accomplish these objectives led to the exchange of information with other governmental agencies and closer cooperation with other programs relating to disability. BDI also worked with public experts on the labor market and community specialists in vocational services.

The expansion of the Vocational Specialist program has been accomplished through cooperation between BDI and State agency personnel in the form of meetings, telephone and other communications whereby discussions of
mutual problems and exchanges of information and experience have taken place. State agency and Bureau of Disability Insurance vocational specialists have developed valuable vocational reference materials covering job requirements and availability through contacts with employers, labor unions, Chambers of Commerce, Offices of Employment Security, and other organizations which can provide vocational resource materials. The training and consultative services on vocational factors rendered by the State agency and the Bureau of Disability Insurance vocational specialists to the evaluators in the operating units has served to improve the quality of the disability
decisions under the Social Security Act in the following manner.

Though paid for his professional services, the vocational expert {1} is not an agent of the Social Security Administration. He is expected to remain completely objective and impartial in expressing hisopinions, whether they are favorable or unfavorable to the claimant. Identifying with neither the Social Security Administration nor the claimant in what is legally a "non-adversary" procedure, the expert dispassionately contributes his vocational evidence toward an equitable decision.

Since the vocational expert's testimony is based not only on the prehearing documentation, but also on the oral testimony of the claimant and others, he is usually the last witness to testify. Thus, he has considerable opportunity to observe the claimant.

Observation may yield evaluative clues regarding appearance, responsiveness, general intelligence, communication skills, and other claimant characteristics. Also observable are physical capacities, such as the use of limbs or prostheses, or physical endurance during the course of a sometimes lengthy hearing. Residual functional capacities may be deduced from the claimant's account of everyday activities; including use of public transportation. Inferences may be drawn too, regarding the claimant's emotional capacities, motivation, and other personality factors.

On the basis of residual functional capacities, and in consideration of age, education, vocational experience and other relevant factors described above, the vocational expert contributes to the welfare of the claimant. Unsuspected residual capacities may be revealed, as well as occupational possibilities not previously considered. Ways of actualizing vocational potentials and realizing job prospects may be presented as part of the testimony. The availability of appropriate community resources may be mentioned. As a consequence of the vocational expert's concern for the claimant, the latter sometimes leaves the hearing newly motivated.

Since the origin of the vocational expert program in September 1962, thevocational experts have testified in approximately 25,000 disability cases at the appellate level. {2}

Footnotes (Footnote numbers not same as in the printed version)

{1} The vocational expert is not an employee of the Social Security Administration or the State agencies, but is an independent contractor engaged by the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals to provide independent and impartial appraisals at the hearing level of the appellate process.

{2} Disability Insurance Memorandum No. 147, dated August 7, 1964.
Memorandum to Mr. Bernard Popick from Manuel Levine, subject: Proposed establishment of vocational consultant staff in BDI and State agencies, dated June 22, 1966.
Narrative, "Function of the Vocational Specialist."
Memorandum to Mr. Victor Christgau from Arthur E. Bess, subject: Supplement to Dictionary of Occupational Titles, dated February 15, 1965.
Letter to Mr. Robert C. Goodwin, Department of Labor, from Robert M. Ball, dated April 6, 1965.
Report of Meeting with State Ageney Vocational Specialists.