You may be seeking Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits because you have a physical or mental condition that is listed in the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book. This is a listing of impairments that are considered to be so severe that they automatically qualify as a disability.
However, if you do not have a listed impairment – or one that is considered to be equal in severity to one that is listed – then your pursuit of benefits will turn on how much work you are still able to do – if any – given your limitations.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) calls this your “residual functional capacity,” or RFC. As we will explain below, your doctor’s assessment of your RFC will play a key role in this determination.
What Is Residual Functional Capacity?
Your residual functional capacity basically is the amount of work you can still do despite the physical and mental limitations caused by your medical condition as well as any related symptoms such as pain.
Your physical abilities include your ability to sit, stand, walk and push and lift objects. It also includes your ability to climb or kneel, see and hear others and communicate with them.
Your mental abilities include your ability to understand and remember things, concentrate on tasks, carry out simple instructions, interact socially and adapt to changes in your work environment.
For example, if you suffer a back injury at work, it may limit your physical ability to lift objects that weigh more than 20 pounds or keep you from being able to bend. If you suffer a brain injury, you may be unable to focus on your daily work tasks, obey supervisors or handle routine assignments.
How Does the SSA Use Your Residual Functional Capacity?
When you submit your application for SSD benefits, the SSA will forward your application and all medical evidence you submit to Disability Determination Services (DDS), which is a division within the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services.
A claims examiner and medical consultant will review this information. As we stated above, if your condition is not listed in the Blue Book or equal in severity to a listed impairment, the DDS team will use your RFC to determine if you can still do the work you did before. In making this determination, DDS will look at jobs you have held in the previous 15 years.
For example, if you used to work in a warehouse and regularly lift objects weighing 50 pounds or more, and now you can only lift objects of 10 pounds or less, then DDS will likely find that you can no longer do your previous work.
If that’s the case, DDS will then determine if you can perform any other work. Again, your RFC will play a key role in this determination. DDS will also look at your age, education and training.
If DDS determines you cannot do any other job, DDS would find that you are disabled. However, if DDS determines that you can do other work, your application for SSD benefits would be denied.
Getting Your Doctor to Complete RFC Assessment Forms
This is due to the “treating physical rule.” If your doctor’s assessment of your physical or mental RFC is well supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques, and it is consistent with a substantial amount of other evidence in the record, this opinion will be given “controlling weight.”
This makes sense, after all. Your doctor is the one who has worked with you closely and witnessed your condition first-hand. The doctor knows the condition you are suffering from and how it has restricted you physically and mentally.
If you fail to include a doctor’s RFC assessment in your application, the DDS team (and maybe an administrative law judge at a hearing at a later date) will instead rely on medical records and maybe a medical examination that DDS orders. Generally speaking, you do not want the decision on your claim to be decided on this information alone. Always make sure to include your doctor’s opinion.
If you are seeking SSD benefits, you should contact an experienced attorney for assistance. The attorney can help you to provide your treating physician with the proper paperwork that is needed for a RFC assessment.