Residual Functional Capacity
The SSA defines “residual functional capacity” as “Your impairment(s), and any related symptoms, such as pain, may cause physical and mental limitations that affect what you can do in a work setting. Your residual functional capacity is the most you can still do despite your limitations.” The residual functional capacity standard is used when your disability does not meet the standard of an SSA disability category. Typically, a claim is evaluated based upon the residual functional capacity criteria when it reaches the third tier of the evaluation process – the administrative hearing.

Most claims do not meet the SSA’s standard definition of a disability. Usually, the disability of an individual requires a more subjective evaluation. When assessing residual functional capacity, the SSA will consider your ability to meet the physical, mental, sensory, and other requirements of your past relevant work. Furthermore, the SSA will also assess whether or not your disability limits your capacity to make adjustments that might allow you to perform any other work that exists in the national economy. If the SSA finds that you are able to perform any work you have performed in the past 15 years or that you are able to perform other work that is available in the national economy your claim will be denied.

Physical and Mental Considerations
Clearly, your residual functional capacity is determined on the basis of the physical and mental limitations you experience as a result of your disability. But how does this factor into determining your ability to work? A physical disability that limits your ability to walk or stand would prevent you from performing work that requires walking or standing for more than hour at a time while on the job. A mental disability that limits your ability to focus for extended periods of time would prevent you from performing work that requires extended periods of concentration or involves complex procedures. Whether you suffer from physical and/or mental impairments, the SSA will consider the combined effect of these conditions when making a determination regarding your application. This is helpful to the applicant, because assessed separately their conditions may not qualify them for disability benefits. However, the total effect of these conditions may limit an individual in such a way that they are unable to fulfill any type of sustained gainful activity. It is recommended that an applicant secure legal assistance in presenting their case to the administrative hearing.

Making a Determination
The SSA bases its determination of your residual functional capacity upon your medical records, statements in your applications, the statements of others (such as your employer), and the diagnosis of your treating physician. Using these sources, the SSA will assess both your physical and mental capabilities. Physical capabilities are categorized as sedentary, light, medium, heavy, or very heavy. Mental capabilities are categorized as less than unskilled, unskilled, semiskilled, or skilled. The top categories for both mental and physical disabilities indicate that you do not have a disability and therefore will not receive benefits. At the opposite end “sedentary” and “less than unskilled” indicate that your disabled and therefore qualify for benefits.

These categories are used to compare your capabilities with those of certain jobs as assigned by the SSA. The lower you rank within these categories, the more likely you are to qualify as disabled and receive benefits. Understanding the many factors that are considered in making this determination can be very confusing. The success of your application is totally dependent upon accurate evidence supporting your disability claim. A consultation with a professional disability attorney can help you to successfully establish your disability as it relates to the residual functional capacity criteria.


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