What Is RFC?
If your multiple sclerosis is not severe enough to meet or equal a listing at Step 3 of the Sequential Evaluation Process, the Social Security Administration will need to determine your residual functional capacity (RFC) to decide whether you are disabled at Step 4 and Step 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process. RFC is a claimant’s ability to perform work-related activities. In other words, it is what you can still do despite your limitations. An RFC for physical impairments is expressed in terms of whether the Social Security Administration believes you can do heavy, medium, light, or sedentary work in spite of your impairments. The lower your RFC, the less the Social Security Administration believes you can do.
Limitations on Lifting and Walking
When assessing your RFC, the Social Security Administration should consider the weight that you are able to lift and carry. To be able to do medium work, which requires you to lift and carry up to 50 lbs and stand and walk 6 to 8 hours daily, you should have no more than very modest deficits in strength, coordination, and balance.
If you have some difficulty in walking on your heels and toes, or squatting and arising, during medical examination, you might still be able to do light work (lifting no more than 20 lbs and still standing and walking 6 to 8 hours daily). But you probably would not realistically be able to do even light work if you cannot walk on your heels and toes while carrying no weight during a physical.
In evaluating upper extremity function, the Social Security Administration should consider whether you have insufficient strength to operate arm or leg controls more than occasionally in the affected limbs.
Of course, all factors have to be considered: whether your muscles appear weak and limp on exam or spastic (in spasm), whether you are overweight etc. Thus, your RFC could be reduced to sedentary work requiring no more than 2 hours standing and walking daily. If you also have significant upper extremity dysfunction, you would be disabled under a listing.
If both your legs are impaired, and your upper extremities are functionally intact, the impairment will meet Listing 11.09A and you will be disabled if your gait and station are impaired to a significant degree—that is, if you cannot stand and walk 6 to 8 hours daily, and you have a problem standing because of balance sufficient for sedentary work. If gait and station are fully functional for sedentary work, except for enough stamina or strength to stand and walk for more prolonged periods, and your upper extremity function is fully intact, then you are capable of a sedentary work RFC.
Limitations on Activities of Daily Living
You—or family members—should be asked in detail about your ability to carry out activities of daily living (ADL). Of particular interest is your ability to walk up and down steps, the speed at which you walk, and how easily you tire. If you cannot walk a block, you certainly cannot stand and walk 6 to 8 hours daily. You should also be asked what tasks you could do before your stroke that you cannot do now. Can you dress without assistance? Manipulative functions are important. Can you turn a doorknob? Can you pick up coins and button shirts?
High-quality description of your ADLs is very important.
Other Issues Relevant to the Listings and RFC
Certain important issues should also be kept in mind regarding meeting or equaling the listing, or determination of RFC:
The Social Security Administration’s job is to determine if you are disabled, a legal conclusion based on your age, education and work experience and medical evidence. Your doctor’s role is to provide the Social Security Administration with information concerning the degree of your medical impairment. Your doctor’s description of your capacity for work is called a medical source statement and the Social Security Administration’s conclusion about your work capacity is called a residual functional capacity assessment. Residual functional capacity is what you can still do despite your limitations. The Social Security Administration asks that medical source statements include a statement about what you can still do despite your impairments.
The Social Security Administration must consider your treating doctor’s opinion and, under appropriate circumstances, give it controlling weight.
The Social Security Administration evaluates the weight to be given your doctor’s opinion by considering:
When to Ask Your Doctor for an Opinion
If your application for social security disability benefits has been denied and you have appealed, you should get a medical source statement (your doctor’s opinion about what you can still do) from your doctor to use as evidence at the hearing.
When is the best time to request an opinion from your doctor? Many disability attorneys wait until they have reviewed the file and the hearing is scheduled before requesting an opinion from the treating doctor. This has two advantages.
But this approach also has some disadvantages.
Here is an alternative. Suggest that your attorney request your doctor to complete a medical opinion form on the day you retain your attorney. This will provide a snapshot description of your residual functional capacity (RFC) early in the case. If you improve and return to work, the description of your RFC provides a basis for showing that you were disabled for a specific period. If you change doctors, your attorney can get an opinion from the new doctor, too. If you stop seeing doctors, at least your attorney has one treating doctor opinion and can present your testimony at the hearing to establish that you have not improved.
If you continue seeing the doctor but it has been a long time since the doctor’s opinion was obtained, just before the hearing your attorney can send the doctor a copy of the form completed earlier, along with a blank form and a cover letter asking the doctor to complete a new form if your condition has changed significantly. If not, your attorney can ask the doctor to send a one-line letter that says there have been no significant changes since the date the earlier form was completed.
There are times, though, that your attorney needs to consider not requesting a report early in the case.
We handle California Social Security disability claims for claimants from San Diego and nearby areas, including these counties and cities:
Imperial, Orange, Riverside, and San Diego.
Imperial County: Brawley, Calexico, and El Centro.
Orange County: Anaheim, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Habra, Laguna Niguel, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, Orange, Santa Ana, Tustin, Westminster, and Yorba Linda.
Riverside County: Corona, Hemet, Moreno Valley, Palm Desert, Palm Springs, Riverside, and Temecula.
San Diego County: Carlsbad, Chula Vista, El Cajon, Encinitas, Escondido, La Mesa, National City, Oceanside, Poway, Ramona, San Diego, San Marcos, Santee, and Vista.
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