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 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 (who does the initial assessment of a claim for Social Security) 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 decision-making process, 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

The DDS physician will read the medical evidence in the claimant's file. Then, on the RFC form, the physician will rate the claimant's residual functional capacity—the claimant's ability to engage in normal daily activities, taking into account the claimant's condition. For instance, physical RFC forms 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 simple, routine, repetitive tasks (SRRTs).

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). Before the hearing, you can submit an RFC form that has been completed by your personal physician, or treating physician, rather than a DDS medical or psychological consultant.

Social Security often gives substantial weight to the opinion of a disability claimant's personal physician, or treating physician. The treating physician has a physician-patient relationship with first-hand knowledge of a claimant's medical condition and prognosis and is often in a better and more informed position to provide information on a claimant's limitations. If the opinion of a treating physician is submitted with a comprehensive RFC form that explains why a claimant's various medical problems cause various physical and mental limitations, and are consistent with a claimant's medical evidence and other evidence in the file, Social Security should give a good deal of weight to that opinion.

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 make connections between the patient's signs and symptoms and the patient's limitations and abilities. 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.

Reasons to Ask Your Doctor to Fill Out an RFC Form

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 superior to a short statement or letter written on behalf of a claimant by a doctor stating that the claimant cannot work. (Such letters rarely, if ever, help to win a case.)
  • An doctor's RFC form can be instrumental in winning a disability case by allowing a doctor to specifically comment on a claimant's limitations (in strength, range of motion, mobility, and so on).

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

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