The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a five-step process to help determine a claimant’s eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). In the 4th and 5th steps of the process, the SSA relies on what they call an RFC assessment to help determine a claimant’s ability to work despite complications from their medical condition.
What is an RFC Assessment?
RFC stands for “Residual Functional Capacity”. It refers to the MOST you can do (physically and/or mentally) despite how your medical condition affects you.
The SSA wants to assess your RFC to determine how your condition limits your ability to perform physical, mental, sensory, and other requirements necessary in the workplace.
To make this assessment, the disability claims examiner assigned to your case works with a medical consultant at DDS (Disability Determination Services, a state agency that works for the SSA). They will review all of your medical reports and any doctor’s notes concerning your functional limitations and abilities. They perform this review and document their determinations of your RFC on a form required by the SSA. If you do not have adequate medical records, SSA could require you to meet with one of their doctors for a consultative exam.
You should know that the SSA allows you to consult with your doctor and have him/her complete the required RFC form. This has advantages because your doctor has more first-hand knowledge of how your medical condition affects you physically and/or mentally. Your doctor could supply more specific information on the form about your limitations and abilities.
What is Evaluated in an RFC Assessment?
The SSA performs two types of RFC assessments, physical and/or mental, depending on how your medical condition affects you.
The physical RFC assessment evaluates your physical exertional levels for standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling. The SSA will classify your capability under one of these five exertional levels:
- Sedentary: you cannot lift/carry anything over 10 pounds or stand for over 2 hours.
- Light: you can lift/carry ten pounds frequently and occasionally up to 20 pounds. You can stand for over two hours, walk easily and can push and pull with your arms and/or legs.
- Medium: you can frequently lift/carry objects of 25 pounds or fewer and occasionally up to 50 pounds.
- Heavy: you can frequently lift/carry objects 50 pounds or fewer and occasionally up to 100 pounds.
- Very heavy: you can frequently lift/carry objects weighing 50 to 100 pounds and occasionally over 100 pounds.
If the SSA classifies you at a higher level, this means you can also perform the functions of the lower levels. For example, if your exertional level is heavy, you can also work at the sedentary, light, and medium levels.
The physical RFC will also include an evaluation of any non-exertional limitations or doctor restrictions you may have, such as
- using your fingers and hands to reach and/or hold objects
- being exposed to elements such as extreme temperatures, fumes, dust, etc.
If you are filing disability for a mental or emotional condition, the SSA will evaluate your mental RFC. The mental RFC evaluates your ability to:
- maintain attention and concentration for lengthy periods
- understand, remember, and carry out instructions
- perform tasks on schedule and without special supervision
- interact appropriately with supervisors, coworkers, and the public
- cope with changes in the work setting
- manage normal levels of stress
How the SSA Uses Your RFC Assessment
Once the SSA determines your RFC, they then examine your work history for the last 15 years. They look at your work history to see what type of jobs you have performed and what those jobs physically/mentally required of you. They want to determine if you can still perform the required tasks of any previous job at your assessed RFC. If they determine you can, they will probably claim you should return to your job and deny you disability benefits.
If the SSA determines you can’t do the tasks of any prior job, they will then evaluate your claim using the SSA’s medical-vocational rules grid. Using the grid, they will determine whether you should be able to perform any other job given the following:
- your RFC
- your age
- your education
- your skills
Getting Help with Your SSDI Claim
You can file an SSDI claim on your own. But as you can see, understanding what the SSA requires for you to prove your inability to work and how you can provide such proof is complex. Because of this, you may want to seek the help of an experienced disability lawyer.
A disability lawyer can assess your situation and know the best way for you to prove your disability claim and help you through the process. Brock & Stout’s disability attorneys have over 20 years of experience helping clients file for disability. Our disability lawyers familiar with all aspects of the disability application process, including the RFC assessment, and can help you navigate the system. Contact us for a free evaluation to see if we can help you get the benefits you need.