What is an RFC (Residual Functional Capacity)?

RFC stands for "Residual Functional Capacity" and refers to the maximum you can do in spite of your physical/psychological impairment(s). Social Security assesses residual functional capacity on a case-by-case and only after all medical records are examined. The Social Security Administration (SSA) must organize your complete medical history. In addition to the reports submitted by your own physicians, you may be asked to undergo a consultative examination by a doctor who works for Social Security.

What is an RFC?

Before the Social Security Administration (SSA) decides if an applicant for a disability benefit really has a disability that stops him or her from working, a disability claims examiner will fill out a "Residual Functional Capacity" (RFC) assessment form after conducting a both a physical and mental examination. Sometimes, the SSA allows your own physician to complete the form.

  • The assessment level is based on how much you are able to walk or stand and lift, carry, and push or pull objects.
  • The lifting question assesses the amount you can occasionally lift from a range of 10 pounds to 100 pounds.
  • The standing or walking question is based on having a normal break for (i) less than 2 hours in an 8-hour workday or (ii) for at least 2 hours in an 8-hour workday or (iii) about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday or you require a hand-held assistive device to enable movement.
  • The sitting question is based on (i) needing to sit for less than about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday (ii) about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday (iii) need to periodically alternate sitting and standing to relieve pain or discomfort.
  • The pushing and pulling question is based on using hand or foot controls (i) unlimited, other than as shown for lifting and/or carrying limited in upper extremities (describe nature and degree) (ii) limited in lower extremities (describe nature and degree) (iii) limited in upper extremities (describe nature and degree).

The vision test is based on the following visual limitations and how they affect the applicant:

  • near acuity,
  • far acuity,
  • depth perception,
  • accommodation,
  • color vision,
  • field of vision.

Hearing and speaking are also assessed and the assessor has to state if the applicant is limited or impaired when using these faculties. 

Why Have Your RFC Evaluated

The purpose of residual functional capacity is to identify how your current limitations prevent you from meeting the physical, sensory, mental and other requirements of the workplace. The residual functional capacity (RFC) questionnaire is usually completed by a DDS (Disability Determination Services) physician. Unfortunately, RFC forms completed by DDS doctors are often written to ensure that the claimant is denied disability benefits.

You can also have your doctor fill out an RFC on your behalf. You can download an RFC for a medical professional on the SSA's website. Be sure to ask your doctor to be as thorough as possible when filling out an RFC on your behalf. The more medical reports you have on your side, the better your chances of approval.

Can My Doctor Help Complete My RFC?

The residual functional capacity (RFC) form commonly known as the form that needs to be completed showing your ability to take part in work related tasks can be completed by your doctor. S/he knows far more about your disability and the impact it is having on you than anyone else and whether you are able to take on tasks in a workplace environment.

An RFC assessment is often required by the Social Security Administration (SSA) before any final decision is made about your eligibility for social security disability benefits. Typically, it’s unlikely you will be awarded any benefits based just on your diagnosis claiming you are disabled.

Far more important is whether you are capable of earning an income to support yourself. Even though there is nothing that difficult about completing an RFC form, it does play a vital role in persuading the SSA that your disability disallows you from taking part in paid employment.

If you ask your doctor to complete the RFC form on your behalf you can be certain his opinion will back up your disability claim regarding your physical ability to take part in work related activities.

Your doctor won’t lie but will typically tell the truth about the impact your disability has on your daily life whether it concerns leisure activities or potential to undertake paid employment. The SSA will take your doctor’s opinion seriously and will include it as a major part of the decision making process regarding your claim.

Having your doctor complete a RFC on your behalf may increase your chances of being approved. Of course, not all physicians will be comfortable with this task however you should still ask as it could be make or break when it comes to the SSA final decision.

What makes your doctor’s opinion more valid than your own is that the SSA evaluators are very strict and they consider all your possible impairments. They need as much detail as possible about your diagnosis and the effect it has on your ability to work.

They rate things like your capability to lift and carry items to your mental ability to do a job. At the most extreme if your rating when assessing your RFC for physical abilities is found to be sedentary meaning you can’t lift much or have very restricted movement will help you win your case for disability benefits.

However, if you are rated as very heavy for physical disabilities you are not considered disabled in that area so you are unlikely to win your claim. As far as mental function is concerned if you are classified as less than unskilled it means you don’t have sufficient capacity to take part in any type of employment at all and your claim for disability benefits is likely to be approved.

An Accurate RFC Will Help Your Claim

Overall your attorney will help ensure your RFC is accurate and will help facilitate the completion of the RFC form in the first place. If you are serious about winning your disability benefit claim you will hire a disability attorney to help you.

There is no cost to begin with and you will only have to pay legal fees if your chosen attorney wins your case. The fees when payable are capped at $6,000 or 25 percent of your back payments which you can pay out of your back payment once your claim has been approved.

It takes many months to complete and win a disability benefit’s claim from the SSA so hiring an attorney will assist in speeding up the process and bring you closer to financial security.

If your initial claim is denied, as so many are, your attorney can help amend your application so it is ready to transit through the appeal’s process. An appeal is something you should never do on your own as you would have little or no chance of winning however hard you try.

Getting Help With Your Claim

If you need to fill out an RFC, your claim may be more challenging to win than cases that are medically "straightforward." If this is the case for you, you should contact an experienced Social Security attorney or advocate. He or she can evaluate your claim and help you get the filing process started.

Working with an Attorney

There are so many important factors to consider when applying for SSDI benefits such as getting a full evaluation from your physician regarding your disability such as current state, treatment received and future prognosis. Whether your doctor completes the RFC on your behalf or not it is important that vital details, including evidence, is left out of your application.

This is where a disability attorney can play a key role because s/he instantly knows from experience and similar cases to yours whether your application for SSDI will be accepted. The attorney can tell you what is likely to be the downfall of your application.

For example, whether your physician’s report is complete enough or there are some small details missing which could lead to a denial of your claim. If your physician agreed to complete your RFC form an attorney will know immediately if the information provided is correct and whether it will lead to an acceptance or denial of your claim. The attorney will also suggest any ways the RFC form completion could be filled in better. If this happens you may have to go back to your physician to ask for improvements.

Additional Resources

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