When you apply for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) reviews a form known as a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment. This assessment will determine what types of work-related tasks you can still perform and if your disability is severe enough to qualify for benefits.

The Disability Determination Services (DDS) physician completes the RFC form, but you can also have your own doctor fill out an RFC on your behalf. This can be helpful because forms completed by DDS physicians are typically written to be highly critical of claims for disability benefits. If possible, it’s best to have a specialist with extensive experience treating people with your condition fill out the RFC form.

Depending on your disability, your RFC will cover only physical limitations, only mental limitations, or a combination of both physical and mental limitations. Residual Functional Capacity Alperin Law

Physical Limitations

The first component of a physical RFC assessment is your exertional level, which refers to the type of work you can do: sedentary, light, medium, heavy, or very heavy. Some tasks that are included in determining your exertional level include:

  • Sitting for an extended period of time
  • Standing for an extended period of time
  • Walking long distances
  • Carrying objects
  • Pushing or pulling objects
  • Climbing
  • Stooping
  • Crawling
  • Kneeling or crouching

The SSA has created a grid that sets conditions for when people can automatically be granted disability benefits. The grid takes into account age, education, and previous work history, as well as a person’s exertion level. For example:

  • Someone who is over 49 and limited to sedentary work will automatically be granted benefits unless his past work was sedentary or he has job skills or recent training allowing him to do sedentary work.
  • Someone who is over 55 and limited to light work would automatically receive disability benefits unless his past work history or skills would allow him to perform light work.

If you can still perform heavy or very heavy work despite your disability, it becomes significantly more difficult to obtain SSD benefits. The grid rules are also quite strict for younger applicants, since it is assumed they are more able to retrain for new employment suitable for their limitations.

In addition to determining your exertional level, a physical RFC assessment also looks at how well you can perform physical tasks that don’t require strength. For example:

  • Seeing, including depth perception and color vision
  • Hearing
  • Speaking
  • Using your hands to write, type, or reach for objects
  • Working in extreme temperatures
  • Working in locations with dust, fumes, or other lung irritants
  • Working in wet or humid conditions

Mental Limitations

A mental RFC will be created if you have listed any sort of mental or cognitive impairment on your application for disability benefits.

A mental RFC assessment describes your ability to handle tasks such as:

  • Understanding and following instructions
  • Carrying out a routine with minimal supervision
  • Performing tasks on a schedule, including being punctual
  • Making simple decisions
  • Getting along with coworkers and peers
  • Interacting with the public in a socially acceptable manner
  • Responding appropriately to criticism
  • Maintaining acceptable standards for neatness and cleanliness
  • Reacting to changes in an appropriate manner
  • Following safety rules and recognizing workplace hazards

The limitations outlined in your mental RFC will be compared to your old job to see if you are capable of returning to the work you had previously. If returning to your old work is not possible, the SSA will compare your mental limitations to the requirements of other jobs available to see if alternative work would be suitable.

There are no standardized grid rules that cover mental RFC. The type of work you are capable of performing is determined on a case-by-case basis.

It’s impossible to assess a person’s ability to work based on medical records alone, which is why it’s vital that your RFC provide a detailed and complete assessment of your physical and mental limitations as they relate to your employment. Retaining an attorney familiar with SSD procedures is the best way to prepare an application that supports your claim for benefits.

Have You Or A Loved One Been Denied Social Security Disability Benefits?

If you or a loved on has been denied Social Security Disability Benefits you need to speak with an experienced SSD attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Virginia Beach office directly at 757.490.3500 to schedule your free consultation. We have offices throughout Virginia including Chesapeake, Newport News, Norfolk and Suffolk.


Scott Alperin
Experienced Estate Planning & Elder Law Attorney Serving Virginia Beach Area Clients Since 1994.