How Does the Social Security Administration Determine Residual Functional Capacity?

Residual functional capacity (RFC) is one of the major determinations that are made in the Social Security Administration’s 5-Step Sequential Evaluation process. Understanding what RFC is and how it is used by the SSA can be useful in preparing an application for Social Security Disability (SSD, SSDI, or DI) benefits or understanding the reasons why your claim was denied. Even if your Arkansas SSD claim has been denied, you can file an appeal with the Social Security Administration after understanding the reasons for your denial.

What is a RFC?

At Step 4 of the Social Security’s Sequential Disability Evaluation Process, the applicant’s residual functional capacity is determined. Residual functional capacity (RFC) refers to the things that you are still able to do despite your impairment. In other words, it is the maximum extent of your abilities despite the impairment or impairments you are experiencing.

How is Your RFC Determined?

RFC is determined by considering your impairment or, if you have more than a single impairment, the combined effects of all of your impairments that the SSA is aware of – even ones that the SSA does not consider to be severe — will be considered for purposes of your RFC. Your RFC is determined after considering your all longitudinal medical evidence and other evidence you provide. Other evidence can include reports regarding symptoms and signs of your pain as reported by those who are often in contact with you like family members, caregivers, friends, teachers, past employers, and others.

For the medical evidence, you are responsible for providing all evidence, but the agency may choose to develop the record further by requesting that you undergo an exam with consultative examination. The SSA will also consider your medical records and observations of your doctor. While your treating physician’s opinion is considered, it is not determinative as the SSA considers all medical evidence.

Another way your RFC is developed is through self-reporting and reports of third-parties including family members, caregivers, friends, teachers, past employers, and others. Those who are looking to self-report their activities of daily living (ADL), from which inferences regarding the things you are able to do can be drawn from, should complete Functional Report – Adult (Form SSA-3373-BK). Third parties that wish to provide information about the applicant’s abilities and limitations can do so through Functional Report – Adult – Third Party (Form SSA-3380-BK). The report will request information or ask the SSD applicant or the third party questions like:

  • Do you take care of anyone else such as a wife/husband, children, grandchildren, parents, friend, other?
  • What were you able to do before your illnesses, injuries, or conditions that you can’t do now?
  • List household chores, both indoors and outdoors, that you are able to do. (For example, cleaning, laundry, household repairs, ironing, mowing, etc.)
  • Describe any changes in social activities since the illnesses, injuries, or conditions began.
  • How well do you follow written instructions? (For example, a recipe.)

These questions are intended to gain a better understanding of your abilities and limitations. You should answer all questions are honestly and in as forthcoming of a manner as possible as your RFC may include specific limitation such as an inability to bend or kneel.

How does the SSA use RFC?

RFC is firsts utilized at Step 4 of the Sequential Evaluation. Generally work is divided into classes based upon the exertion required and characteristics of the work. If you are able to perform a certain level of work, you are typically considered to be able to perform lighter classes. Classes of work include:

  • Sedentary work – A sedentary job is one that is performed mostly while seated, though occasional lifting of no more than 10 pounds may be required.
  • Light work – This type of work is characterized by frequent walking or standing. The individual may have to lift and carry up to 20 pounds, but 10 pounds is more common.
  • Medium work – Medium work may require lifting of up to 50 pounds and lifting and carrying of 25 pounds.
  • Heavy work – This work type requires lifting of up to 100 pounds and the ability to lift and carry up to 50 pounds.

Your ability to do previous work is based on your RFC and the job’s physical and mental requirements.  If you cannot do the work that you performed previously, then the sequential process will move on to the 5th step where your RFC will be considered to determine whether there are other occupations in your region that you can perform. Work will be considered in light of its class and the specific abilities the employee must have to perform it.

If you have questions regarding your ability to work and are seeking SSD benefits, contact Fayetteville AR disability lawyer Ken Kieklak at (479) 316-0438 or contact us online.