How Social Security Evaluates a Disability Applicant’s Ability to Work

evaluating disabled applicant ability to workTo determine your ability to work, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must know how severely your disability limits your activities. Through a Residual Function Capacity (RFC) assessment, the SSA will evaluate if you are able to do work after accounting for your physical or mental disability. This assessment along with other documents could help show that you qualify for benefits.

Below, Sigman Janssen further discusses why this assessment is important for getting approved for disability benefits and how asking your treating doctor to fill out an RFC may help prove your limitations.

Understanding Your Residual Functional Capacity

Your residual functional capacity refers to your ability to perform certain work duties, given your limitations due to a disability. The SSA needs to get an understanding of what you can or cannot do. 

Prior to your disability, you were able to perform at your full functional capacity. Then, your disability diminished that functional capacity in some quantifiable way. Your RFC will inform the SSA whether your disability prevents you from engaging in any gainful employment for at least one year.

The RFC assessment can be completed by a Disability Determination Services (DDS) physician who will review your medical records and identify the restrictions your condition places on the jobs you can perform. It might be more beneficial, however, to have your treating doctor fill out an RFC for you.

Process for Completing an RFC

When making a disability determination, a claim examiner will assess your claim and complete a write-up. In the write-up, the examiner will explain why your application was approved or denied. He or she will also present your claim to a DDS specialist who will complete the assessment and rate your RFC.

However, it is important to note that the DDS specialist will likely not inform you that your treating doctor could complete this assessment. To do so, bring a copy of the RFC form to your next doctor’s appointment. Depending on your disability, this could be either a physical or mental RFC form.

Let your doctor know that you are applying for disability benefits and ask that he or she fill out the form. Once completed, you would need to submit the assessment to the SSA with your other documents.

Physical RFC

Your physical RFC will help the SSA identify the amount of physical activity you are able to perform. The assessment will show how long you are able to sit, stand, walk, or crouch, how much you are able to lift, carry, push or pull and how well you are able to grasp or reach items overhead.

A physical RFC assessment will determine if you can perform one of the following work levels:

  • Sedentary work – You are unable to lift over ten pounds at a time but can occasionally lift and carry small items. Sedentary work requires sitting with some ability to walk or stand sometimes.
  • Light work – You are able to lift up to 20 pounds occasionally and you can lift 10 pounds on a frequent basis. Light work often requires frequent walking, standing, and the ability to push and pull using your arms or legs. If you are able to perform light work, you could do sedentary work.
  • Medium work – You are able to lift up to 50 pounds at a time and can lift or carry up to 25 pounds on a frequent basis. You can also perform light and sedentary work.
  • Heavy work – You are able to lift up to 100 pounds at a time and can lift or carry up to 50 pounds on a frequent basis. If you can do heavy work, you can do all the other work levels.

If your physical RFC aligns with the physical demands of your job, the SSA may assume that you are not totally disabled and can get back to work. The SSA may also determine that you could work in some capacity despite your disability if your physical RFC lists other issues that may limit your ability to work.

Mental RFC

If you file a claim for a mental or emotional condition, a mental RFC form would need to be submitted. Your mental RFC would assess, but is not limited to, your ability to perform the following:

  • Understand, remember and follow instructions
  • Remember locations, work procedures and routine job tasks
  • Pay attention and concentrate on tasks for extended time periods
  • Work with others or in close proximity without getting distracted
  • Respond appropriately to your employer’s direction and feedback

Can the SSA Determine Your RFC Without a Doctor’s Support?

Having your treating doctor fill out your RFC could increase your chances of being approved for disability benefits. He or she will have better knowledge of how your physical or mental disability impacts you and your ability to work. An RFC assessment from your doctor also carries more weight with the SSA.

However, without support from your doctor, the DDS will use a medical or psychological consultant to complete the assessment. He or she can go over the medical evidence you submitted and prepare your RFC rating. Generally, these assessments are not as helpful and result in more denials than approvals. 

Contact Sigman Janssen for More Information

Get help with your disability application by consulting a reputable Appleton Social Security Disability lawyer from our firm today. Our firm is prepared to evaluate your disability claim during a free, no-obligation consultation. We charge no upfront fees and only get paid if we recover disability benefits for you.     

Sigman Janssen. Free Case Reviews. (877) 888-5201.