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FEDERAL COURTS LAW REVIEW -- 1998 Fed. Cts. L. Rev. 5

"Transferability of Skills" and the Medical-Vocational Guidelines Under the Social Security Act

By Hon. Dennis G. Katz


[a.1]In the evaluation of a disability claim under the Social Security Act, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must determine the claimant's capacity for employment. If the claimant is no longer able to perform his or her previous work due to medical impairments, to determine whether the claimant can perform other work in the economy, the SSA must consider the entire vocational profile of the claimant. This includes the claimant's functional abilities, age, education and prior work experience. In evaluating prior work experience, the SSA must, under the regulations, determine whether or not the claimant acquired work skills that could be used in other jobs ("transferable skills") because such skills would tend to make the worker more employable.

[a.2]To aid  SSA adjudicators in deciding whether claimants can perform other work in the national economy, the SSA has taken administrative notice of the many unskilled jobs that exist in the national economy and has published regulations (contained in the Medical-Vocational Guidelines) ("Guidelines") for determining if persons with specified vocational profiles (sometimes called the "grids") can or cannot perform such jobs. If claimants cannot perform such unskilled jobs, they are considered "disabled"; if they are able to perform such jobs, they are deemed "not disabled."

[a.3]The Guidelines (which evaluate the claimant's ability to perform unskilled work only) nevertheless consider the "transferability" of the claimant's acquired skills in evaluating whether the claimant is "disabled" or "not disabled." This appears to be inconsistent with other SSA regulations, which prohibit consideration of claimants' prior skilled work when determining whether or not the claimants can perform unskilled work.

[a.4]To protect the rights under the Act of claimants with transferrable skills, SSA adjudicators should consider obtaining expert vocational testimony describing such claimants' transferable skills, the jobs in which those skills can be used, and the number of such jobs in the national and regional economies.

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