If your medical condition doesn’t match one found on the Social Security Administration’s List of Impairments, Disability Determination Services (DDS) will evaluate your remaining abilities, called your residual functional capacity, or RFC, to see if you can perform your past relevant work. If not, DDS will perform a medical-vocational analysis to determine whether there is other work in the national economy that you can learn to do. The RFC is formulated at steps four and five of the Five-Step Sequential Evaluation (See Five-Step Sequential Evaluation).
The claims examiner at Disability Determination Services (DDS) will use your medical records and statements from your doctors to develop your RFC. In addition to the activities you can do, your RFC will state what you cannot do, due to the limitations caused by your disability. Your physical RFC will include the “exertional” level of work you can do, i.e., sedentary, light, medium, or heavy. Your “exertional” level is based on how much you can walk or stand and lift, carry, and push or pull objects. Your physical RFC also will include “non-exertional” limitations, which do not involve strength. These include your ability to do any of the following (you also may have restrictions imposed by your physician): stoop, crouch, crawl, or climb; be exposed to temperature extremes, sunlight, fumes, or dust; use hands to write, type, or reach or handle objects; and see, hear, or speak. Non-exertional limitations are important because DDS will use them to create a function-by-function analysis of your former occupation and other potential jobs you could do to determine whether your limitations would interfere with any of the tasks required in these jobs.
If you list any type of mental impairment on your disability application, DDS is required to investigate the severity of that condition. If the agency finds it to be severe, it must create a mental RFC (or MRFC) for you. Your RFC also will indicate your ability to persist in the areas of concentration and attention, as well as your ability to interact socially in work settings, assimilate new information, and successfully engage in SRRTs (simple, routine, repetitive tasks).
Like a physical RFC, DDS will compare the limitations in your mental RFC to the tasks required in your past job to see if you can still perform your prior occupation. If not, DDS will compare the mental limitations in your RFC with the requirements of other jobs in the national economy to determine whether there are any less mentally demanding jobs you could do. Before deciding that there is another type of job you could learn to do, DDS must consider the combination of your physical and mental limitations.
To make sure your file contains a detailed RFC that correctly reflects your limitations, ask your doctor to fill out a form detailing your physical and/or mental limitations, as well as any temporary or permanent restrictions you have.
Your representative will help you collect the evidence you will need to strengthen your claim for disability benefits under the Social Security Administration.