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What Is an RFC and How Is It Vital when Determining Disability?

What Is an RFC and How Is It Vital when Determining Disability?

Social security disability claims processing is not complete without an RFC (Residual Functional Capacity) assessment. When evaluating whether a disability applicant has a genuine disability that prevents him or her from working, the SSA (Social Security Administration) determines what types of jobs the applicant can perform. For this, they rely on medical chart reviews as well as any statements from the treating physician. Apart from specifying the activities the applicant can perform, the RFC will also outline what he/she cannot do because of the limitations caused by the disability. The RFC is used by the SSA primarily when an applicant’s conditions do not meet a listed impairment to see if he/she should still be considered as disabled.

Typically, the social security disability claims examiner works alongside a disability consultant at the Disability Determination Service (DDS) to perform the RFC of an applicant. Since it is not a physical exam and relies on chart review and physician notes, the applicant need not actively participate in the RFC evaluation. The applicant must receive a rating of medium work or less to be considered for disability awards.

How is the RFC evaluation conducted?

Based on the particular disabling condition the claimant applied for, his/her disability will be assessed under the physical RFC form or the mental RFC form.

Physical RFC evaluation: If the SSA agrees that the claimant’s physical disability is severe, they will develop a physical RFC for the claimant. They will review the applicant’s medical records and work history and apprise his or her ability to perform basic tasks. A physical RFC will be developed, and it will include the exertional level of work the applicant can do. This exertional level is based on how much you can walk or stand; and carry, lift, push or pull objects. Here are the different levels of exertion.

  • Light work: You can lift up to 20 pounds at a time, and also frequently lift/carry objects weighing 10 pounds or less. Jobs that involve considerable walking or standing, and those that involve a lot of sitting but requires some pushing and pulling, would fall in this category.
  • Medium work: The applicant can lift up to 50 pounds at a time, and frequently lift or carry objects weighing 25 pounds or less. Jobs that involve standing or walking along with the ability to use the hands and arms to grab, hold, turn and so on, for at least 6 hours in an 8-hour workday qualify as medium work. This type of work can also require stooping, bending, and crouching.
  • Heavy work: You can lift up to 100 pounds at a time and frequently lift or carry objects weighing 50 pounds or less. Work in this category involves almost full exertion of the body.
  • Very heavy work: Here the applicant can lift up more than 100 pounds and frequently lift or carry objects weighing 50 pounds or more. These tasks involve full exertion of the body.
  • Sedentary work: The applicant can lift up to 10 pounds at a time and can occasionally carry or lift small objects. Jobs in this category mostly involve sitting but may require some walking and standing. They may also require dexterity or work involving the use of hands and fingers.

Mental RFC Evaluation: An applicant suffering from a mental illness will be evaluated under the mental RFC form. The medical consultant will find out whether the applicant is capable of social interaction in a job setting, able to focus on and retain attention in a work setting, and can engage in simple, routine, repetitive tasks (SRRT). The consultant will make a note of all non-exertional limitations that prevent the applicant from carrying out non-strength-related work activities such as the following.

  • Climbing
  • Crawling
  • Finger/hand movement
  • Hearing
  • Paying attention
  • Remembering detailed instructions
  • Speaking
  • Seeing

Other aspects evaluated are:

  • Perform tasks on a schedule
  • Make simple decisions/judgments
  • Maintain an ordinary routine without special supervision
  • Respond aptly to criticism from supervisors
  • Appropriate public interaction
  • Get along with co-workers without distracting them
  • Tolerate normal levels of stress
  • Respond properly to changes in the work setting
  • Maintain acceptable standards of cleanliness

When deciding whether a disability applicant can do a particular type of job, the SSA will consider both the physical and mental limitations combined. If the applicant’s symptoms and limitations would make him/her unable to perform even sedentary work, then the SSA would determine that he/she is disabled. Given the importance of medical records and medical chart reviews when making an RFC evaluation, it is important for applicants to ensure that their treating doctor fills out the required forms detailing the physical or mental limitations the applicant has. The SSA is required to give more weight to the treating physician’s opinion when deciding whether to award or deny the disability benefits. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is also required to give the treating doctor’s opinion more importance during an appeals hearing.

Disclaimer: The content in this blog is sourced from reliable internet resources and is meant for informative purposes only. For a professional opinion regarding this topic, consult a social security disability lawyer.

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