In determining whether you qualify for Social Security disability benefits the Social Security Administration (SSA) needs to know what exactly you are capable of doing. Are you able to perform your past work, or are you capable of doing some other type of work? Your work capacity is determined by your residual functional capacity (RFC) — the most you can do considering the effects of your disability. SSA learns what your capabilities are by performing a physical or mental residual functional capacity assessment depending upon your disability.
Your physical RFC determines what level of activity you are capable of, including whether you are able to perform a sit-down type job or heavy work like construction. There are five possible levels of exertion:
- Sedentary work: You are able to lift up to 10 pounds occasionally, sit for at least 6 hours and stand for at least 2 hours.
- Light work: You are able to lift 10 to 20 pounds occasionally, sit for at least 2 hours and stand for at least 6 hours.
- Medium work: You are able to lift 25 to 50 pounds occasionally, stand for at least 6 hours and sit for at least 2 hours.
- Heavy work: You are able to lift up to 100 pounds at one time and can frequently lift 50 pounds.
- Very heavy work: You are able to lift objects that weigh more than 100 pounds.
To determine your mental RFC, SSA will consider four different areas of functioning:
- Understanding and Memory: SSA considers your ability to understand, carry out and remember instructions. They will look at the level of instructions, whether they are complicated or simple, to determine the level of work you could perform. If you struggle with understanding, carrying out and remembering simple instructions you will most likely be found to be disabled.
- Social Interactions: This refers to your ability to interact not only with the general public but with your co-workers and supervisors. If you have difficulties interacting with people this could significantly impact the types of jobs you could perform. It may not restrict you from performing all types of work, but it would certainly limit the number of jobs you can perform.
- Sustained Concentration and Persistence: This area looks at your ability to maintain concentration, persistence and pace. Generally, if you would be off-task more than 20% of the day you would be hard-pressed to find an employer who would make that type of accommodation for you.
- Adaptation: This refers to your ability to handle normal work stress. It looks at your ability to handle and respond to normal changes in the work environment.
How the RFC is used?
Once your RFC is determined, SSA will then consider whether you can perform your past work based on your physical and/or mental RFC. If you are at the hearing level, this assessment is generally performed by a vocational expert. Based on your RFC assessment, if the vocational expert determines you are not able to do the work you have done in the past then the next consideration is determining whether there is any other type of work you can do.
One thing you can do to help Social Security Administration assess your RFC is to ask your doctor to give an opinion. Generally, your treating physician will be in the best position to determine what your physical or mental capabilities are. If you don’t have an attorney to assist you with your disability claim you should consider getting one. An attorney can help prepare your case for hearing by collecting evidence from your doctor about your RFC. And more importantly, your attorney will be able to argue on your behalf about what your RFC should be and how your RFC prevents you from doing past, present and future work.