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As a continuation of our previous article about Substantial Gainful Activity and its impact on being approved for SSD and SSDI, this article will continue the conversation with Mr. Heermans of Heermans  Social Security Disability Law Firm, serving Gulfport – Biloxi Mississippi Gulf Coast, describing the RFC Test.  Mr. Heermans says, “Basically, Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) determines if a Social Security Disability applicant can work at any job (steps four and five of a disability determination) which would make them ineligible for benefits. It’s important to understand that “disability” is a relative term. It means different things in different circumstances. The Social Security Administration uses various definitions, tests, and age categories, to determine a person’s disability and their capacity to perform various work related tasks.” 

Take for example, a Dentist must have 100 percent capacity in each hand. She/He must be able to use both of their hands while performing dental procedures. Truck drivers can get by with less performance capacity in their hands because they are not handling fine dental instruments and working inside the small area of a person’s mouth. Likewise, RFC is a relative term, as it will apply specifically to each applicant and their personal work situation, especially if the applicant has the variability at work of good days and bad days.

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Furthermore, RFC is strictly an employment-related concept. The Disability Determination Services officer evaluates the medical evidence to determine RFC in employment-related terms. The RFC form will contain a list of work activities that you can perform, as well as restrictions on what you can’t do because of your condition. For example, your RFC form might say you can stand for up to two hours and sit for four or more hours, but you can’t operate hazardous machinery.

Because these concepts are so vague and relative to each applicant, an SSI lawyer near me from Heermans Disability Law is a very important partner in this process. They have the ability to understand and interpret the RFC criteria required to clearly reflect what the applicant can and cannot do in a work setting. If your disability claim has been denied, a Heermans attorney may be able to represent you in an appeal and  introduce evidence and challenge existing evidence. This ability may allow your Heermans attorney to alter the RFC determination, so it doesn’t affect your disability benefits claim. The Heermans Law Firm, disability lawyers in Gulfport MS, offer a free Disability Evaluation if your claim has been denied or, you would like to apply for Social Security Disability. 

What is the Functional Residual Capacity for Disability?

Usually, DDS officers only consider the medical evidence in the official medical evaluation. Officers consider functional capacity in three different areas:

  • Physical: Most applicants have physical disabilities. These disabilities limit employment-related physical capacities that most people take for granted, like carrying items above a certain weight, standing, walking, or sitting for extended periods of time, sitting or remaining in the same position while working without experiencing severe pain or discomfort, and bending over, kneeling, crawling, or reaching for objects. However, even people with severe physical disabilities usually have some functionality in these areas. That functionality might or might not enable them to work.
  • Mental: PTSD and cognitive disabilities usually affect a person’s ability to focus. Specific work-related functions include the ability to follow directions, execute instructions, maintain a steady work pace (many applicants have very little RFC in this area), and speak or respond appropriately to coworkers, managers, and customers.
  • Other: This catch-all category, which, as mentioned, many DDS officers overlook, considers the indirect effects of a disability. For example, people with certain skin or breathing conditions cannot effectively work in some environments, like outdoors or with smokers. Other effects are even more indirect. Seizures are a good example. Frequently, the fear and embarrassment associated with this disability is much worse than the physical aspects of this condition. An optional psychiatric evaluation covers this territory. More on that below.

RFC determines the individual’s maximum remaining ability to do sustained work activities in an ordinary work setting on a regular and continuing basis. A “regular and continuing basis” means eight hours a day, five days a week.

At an appeal hearing, a Heermans Social Security disability lawyer may challenge the initial RFC determination on this basis. Many people have good days and bad days. Physical and mental abilities to perform on the job can be impaired due to many different factors. Furthermore, many disabled people simply run out of energy late in the day or later in the week. 

Assume Larry has disabling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When he has graphic nightmares, he doesn’t sleep well, and he cannot function the next day, even if he has a high (or high enough) mental RFC. Larry’s occasional trouble sleeping also causes fatigue to set in much earlier. So, Larry’s RFC score on a Monday in a good week is much higher than his RFC score on a Friday in a bad week.

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RFC Evidence

Medical evidence, like the RFC determination itself, is subjective. For example, two doctors might examine the same patient and make two different conclusions as to the patient’s ability to consistently lift objects. For this reason, a disability lawyer will pay careful attention to an applicant’s medical conditions and conclusions. Independent doctors may reach different conclusions from SSA company appointed doctors. 

Treatment effects are relevant as well. Many drugs for emotional conditions, like schizophrenia, are very strong. So, the medicated and unmedicated schizophrenia RFC scores could be dramatically different. This effect also changes, as doctors adjust medication levels or switch patients to different drugs.

Work-related evidence, like performance evaluations and prior attempts to work, is critical as well. This evidence bridges the gap between medical and functional RFC.

At-home evidence, an often overlooked category, sheds light on the RFC determination as well. If Mary must use a wheelchair at home, she’ll almost certainly need to use a wheelchair at work, at least on certain days. Mary’s friends and loved ones can offer testimony as well. They cannot testify about the technical aspects of Mary’s disability, but they can testify about how that disability affects Mary’s mental and physical capacities.

A psychiatric report is hybrid lay statement-medical records evidence. Psychiatrists may examine medical records, but they very rarely perform physical examinations. Instead, they mostly focus on how a docility (the quality of being quiet and easy to influence, persuade, or control), whether mental or physical, affects/alters mood, outlook, and other such items.

RFC Exertional Levels

Based on all this evidence, the SSA will designate an RFC category for the applicant. These categories are:

  • Sedentary: The applicant cannot stand or walk more than two hours a day, and cannot consistently lift more than five pounds. Sedentary individuals also cannot concentrate or play well with others for more than two hours a day.
  • Light/Medium: Unlike sedentary work, light or medium work might qualify as substantial gainful activity, depending on the hourly pay. These individuals can function fairly well, mentally and physically, for six hours a day. Medium individuals have somewhat sharper minds and stronger bodies.
  • Heavy/Very Heavy: This category focuses almost exclusively on the applicant’s physical abilities. Heavy work is the ability to consistently lift fifty pounds; very heavy work is the ability to consistently lift one hundred pounds. These individuals almost never receive benefits, because they can usually work in warehouses or other such SGA environments.

Special rules do apply to applicants with certain disabilities, and to applicants over age 50. The SSA uses a different scoring system in these cases.

Due to the complexity of the SSA RFC Test and disability application process, it is best to have a Heermans attorney by your side. They specialize in the adult and child Social Security Disability application process and also work with those who have been denied benefits.  For more information about SSD benefits, contact the ssa law firm in Gulfport –  Biloxi Mississippi Gulf Coast at the Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm and call or text 24/7 at (228) 207-0766. More value added FREE information can be found in our online article library.


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