Social Security Disability and the Doctor's Residual Functional Capacity Form (RFC )

Your doctor's RFC form may be the most important part of your disability case.

An RFC form assesses a disability claimant's "residual functional capacity," the claimant's functional capacity (ability to work) that remains after taking into account the claimant's mental or physical disability. To help determine whether a Social Security disability claimant is disabled, a claims examiner at Disability Determination Services (DDS) does a residual functional capacity assessment. In addition, you can ask your treating doctor to fill out an RFC form for you.

DDS Process for Completing an RFC Form

While making a decision on a claimant's case, a DDS disability examiner does a write-up. In the write-up, the examiner will explain the reasoning behind his or her decision to approve or deny the claim. As part of the write-up, the examiner must take the case to a DDS medical or psychological consultant (usually right down the hall) and have that individual complete an RFC form. (Learn about how the examiner uses the RFC assessment to make a disability decision.)

Physical RFC Form

On the RFC form, a DDS physician will, after reading a claimant's medical evidence, rate a claimant's residual functional capacity, or, in other words, a claimant's ability to engage in normal daily activities, after taking into account the individual's condition. For instance, physical RFC forms completed by DDS physicians will make reference to how long a claimant can sit, stand, walk, crouch, and stoop. The physical RFC will also give the medical consultant's opinion regarding how much a claimant can lift (in pounds) on an occasional or frequent basis, and how well that claimant can grasp, manipulate, and reach overhead.

Mental RFC Form

A mental RFC form, completed by a DDS psychologist or psychiatrist, will make reference to a claimant's mental symptoms (for example, poor memory, decreased energy, illogical thinking, and so on). The mental RFC will also indicate a claimant's ability to persist in the areas of concentration and attention, as well as a claimant's ability to interact socially in work settings, assimilate new information, and successfully engage in SRRTs (simple, routine, repetitive tasks).

Unfortunately, RFC forms completed by DDS doctors are rarely of any benefit to claimants. At DDS, RFC forms are used to facilitate denials significantly more often than approvals. That's why it's important to get your treating doctor to fill out an RFC form you.

RFC Forms Completed by Your Treating Doctor

RFC forms completed by your treating doctor can be extremely helpful to you at the time of your hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). At the time of hearing, you can present an RFC form to a judge that has been completed by your personal physician, or treating physician, rather than a DDS medical or psychological consultant.

The "Treating Physician" Rule

The SSA gives substantial weight to the opinions of a disability claimant's personal physician, or treating physician. The SSA believes that the treating physician, having a physician-patient relationship, providing hands-on medical care, and having first-hand knowledge of a claimant's medical condition and prognosis, is in a better and more informed position to render an opinion relative to a determination of disability. Because of this, administrative law judges also give substantial weight to the opinions of treating physicians, particularly when those opinions are properly documented in comprehensive RFC forms that definitively state why a claimant's various medical problems make a return to work impossible and are consistent with a claimant's medical evidence.

Why Doctors' RFC Forms Are Better Than Medical Records

Many claimants may think to themselves: "Well, if the medical evidence is strong anyway, why should I need an RFC filled out by my doctor, or psychologist or psychiatrist?" Medical records very rarely draw conclusions regarding a patient's ability to work or not. And judges are not doctors who can easily translate the symptoms and test results of a medical record into how severe a claimant's functional limitations are.

The Rationale for Doctors' RFC Forms

In a nutshell:

  • A doctor's RFC form makes an administrative law judge's job easier.
  • A doctor's RFC form allows a claimant to present a professional interpretation of the medical evidence, as opposed to simply presenting the medical evidence.
  • An doctor's RFC form is, far and away, superior to a short statement or letter written on behalf of a claimant by a doctor. (Such letters rarely, if ever, help to win a case.)
  • An doctor's RFC form can be instrumental in winning a disability case, mainly by allowing a doctor to specifically comment on a claimant's limitations (in strength, range of motion, mobility, etc).

To obtain an RFC form that may assist you in winning your claim, visit our RFC (Residual Functional Capacity) Form page.

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