What is Residual Functional Capacity and how does it affect my claim for disability benefits?

In order to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, you must prove that you have a medically verifiable condition that meets certain requirements for severity and duration. You must also prove that the impairment prevents you from working. In order to determine just what you are physically and mentally capable of doing despite your impairment, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will assess your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). This is an important step in the approval process and you want to make sure you are fairly assessed. Having a New Mexico SSDI attorney by your side will help.

The SSA Needs to See Evidence of "Residual Functional Capacity"

The SSA will look at a variety of factors to determine your physical and mental abilities. As part of your assessment, they will look at the following pieces of information:

  • Applicant’s own medical records
  • Report from an SSA consultative medical exam
  • Statements about your abilities from other medical sources
  • Descriptions and observations of your limitations provided by you, your family, neighbors, friends, or other persons

Gathering much of this information will be up to you. An experienced SSDI attorney will make sure you have complete medical records, all relevant medical tests and examinations, and strong statements from those who know you.

What the SSA Does With This Evidence

Because your ability to perform work duties is not just based on physical ability, it is important that the SSA considers the mental, sensory, and other requirements of work and how your impairment might limit you in those areas. The evaluator will first determine your ability to perform the same job you had before you became disabled. This is known as past relevant work. If they find that you cannot perform your past relevant work, they will use your RFC along with information about your work experience, training, and education to determine whether you can perform any kind of work. At this stage, it is important that you have provided an accurate accounting of your vocational background.

Assessing Your Physical Abilities

In assessing your physical abilities, the SSA must consider all of the possible physical demands of your relevant work. For certain jobs, the ability to sit at a desk is a key physical demand whereas other jobs require heavy lifting. The RFC is comprised of seven exertional activities, broken down into three work positions (sitting, standing, and walking) and four worker movements (lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling). They are also supposed to consider physical functions (such as reaching, handling, stooping, or crouching), that may reduce your ability to do past work and other work. RFC exertional classifications are:

  • Very heavy work. This kind of work requires standing or walking for six or more hours and lifting 100 pounds or more.
  • Heavy work. This is work that requires standing or walking for six or more hours and lifting weights of no more than 100 pounds.
  • Medium work. Jobs that require standing or walking for six or more hours and lifting weight of no more than 50 pounds are considered to require medium levels of exertion.
  • Light work. If you are approved for light work, you are expected to be able to stand or walk for six or more hours and lift weights of no more than 20 pounds.
  • Sedentary. Sedentary work consists of sitting for six or more hours, standing or walking for no more than two hours and lifting weights of no more than 10 pounds.

An assessment of your exertional classification will be compared to the physical demands of work that you are qualified to perform in order to make a disability determination.

Assessing Your Mental & Other Limitations

Of course, it is possible to be physically able, but to have other impairments that prevent you from working on a regular and continuing basis. If a person suffers emotional trauma or a brain injury, the consequences may be limitations in comprehension, memory, following instructions, and in responding appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and work pressures in a work setting. Some medical impairments, such as skin conditions, epilepsy, and hearing or vision loss may impose limitations and restrictions which affect other work-related abilities. The SSA will assess for these impairments in a manner similar to their assessment for physical limitations. Your RFC will include these mental and sensory limitations.

In New Mexico, Call Keller & Keller for Help With Your SSDI Application

In order to get a fair disability determination, you must have an accurate RFC assessment. With the help of the Albuquerque disability attorney team at Keller & Keller, you can build a strong application which includes all the evidence necessary to prove your need for benefits. Contact us today to find out if we can help.


James R. Keller
Connect with me
Partner at Keller & Keller