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How is residual functional capacity determined by the SSA?

If you have suffered some form of physical injury and it has affected your ability to work and keep a job, you may be considering filing for Social Security Disability insurance (SSDI) benefits. Disabling injuries for the purpose of qualifying for SSDI cover a wide gamut, from the obvious to the obscure.

You may have suffered a severe spinal injury that is covered by the Listing of Impairments that the Social Security Administration has created. These types of impairments are so severe that if you have the impairment, you automatically qualify for SSDI benefits.

But what if you don't have that type of impairment? What it you have something less severe? An important element of the overall disability determination process is the evaluation of your residual functional capacity (RFC). 

This is a very complex process, as the claims evaluator must examine all of the relevant evidence in a claim, and determine how it affects what an applicant can do. An important consideration is that the RFC is not the least a worker can do, but the most.

There are exertional and non-exertional capacity issues. There are seven exertional factors, which include sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling. Each of these factors is considered separately, but they can be combined to make an overall assessment of RFC.

There are additional, nonexertional capacity issues, including postural, manipulative visual, communicative and mental. These factors have to be considered in terms of how they limit work-related activities, for instance, how a brain injury may cause inability to concentrate or remember work instructions.

The adjudicator must describe how all of the medical evidence supports the conclusions they reach with the capacity issues. And this is done in the context of an 8-hour workday, five days a week.

For instance, a neurological test that shows damage to a foot or leg that makes standing or walking for more than 30 minutes at a time would support a finding that they applicant cannot stand or walk for a full-time job.

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Pennsylvania Bar Association Philadelphia Bar Co-Chair SSD Committee Philadelphia Bar Co-Chair SSD Committee