How Does Social Security Decide if I am Unable to Work?
Our experienced Long Beach Social Security Disability lawyers have helped thousands of clients in Orange County, Anaheim, Los Angeles and Southern California obtain the Social Security Disability benefits that they deserve.
One of the most common questions our Social Security Disability lawyers are asked is: “How does Social Security decide if I am disabled and can’t work?” In this article our lawyers explain “Residual Functional Capacity” or “RFC” – which is how Social Security classifies your degree of disability.
What is Social Security Disability Residual Functional Capacity?
To start with, remember that in order to collect Social Security Disability, the Social Security Administration must determine that:
- You have a disability that will last one year or more; AND
- ) Your disability must be severe enough that you cannot perform ANY type of work in the “general economy.”
Doctors’ reports and other medical documentation will be used to determine whether your disability is expected to last a year or more.
But for the Social Security Administration to decide whether the disability prevents any work, the SSA will develop an “RFC” that ascertains what types of activities and tasks you can and cannot still do.
To begin with, Social Security will have a disability claims examiner fill out a “Residual Functional Capacity” (RFC) assessment form on you. The claims examiner will use medical records, statements from your physicians, results of tests, and your own statements to develop your RFC.
The RFC will state what specific activities you can do, and will also list any limitations resulting from your disability. It is typically very specific. For example, your RFC might state that you are only able to stand for thirty minutes at a time, or that you cannot lift more than five pounds.
Social Security Disability Physical RFCs
A Physical Residual Functional Capacity is developed if your disability is physical in nature, rather than mental or psychological. Your determined physical RFC level is one of the most important factors in whether you’ll be granted Social Security disability benefits.
The Physical RFC will include “Exertional Levels” as well as “Non-Exertional Limitations”.
The “exertional” level of work you can will typically be listed as none, sedentary, light, medium, or heavy. The exertional level is determined by factors such as how far you can walk, how long you can stand, or how much you can lift, carry, push or pull.
In order to try and streamline the disability determination process, Social Security has a “grid” of rules that allow some applicants with certain RFC levels to “automatically” be considered disabled.
For example, workers who are over 49 years old with an RFC of “sedentary” work will automatically be granted Social Security disability benefits – unless their past work was sedentary, or they have job skills or job training that would enable them to do sedentary work.
As second example of the “grid” applies to people age 55 and over whose RFC limits them to “light” work. They will also automatically be granted Social Security disability benefits – unless their past work was also light, and/or they have job skills or job training enabling them to do light work.
In situations where no “grid rules” apply to an applicant, Social Security compares the level of the RFC to the level of the applicants past job. If the levels are the same, you will be expected to do your old job, and you will be denied benefits. But, if an RFC is for lighter work than the applicant’s previous job, Social Security will agree that you can’t do your old job, but they will still try and see if there are any jobs at that RFC level that the applicant can do.
Additionally, Social Security will look at an applicant’s “Non-Exertional Limitations”. These are limitations that do not involve strength or endurance. For example, not being able to use your hands to handle objects, or not being able to hear well, are considered “non-exertional limitations.”
Social Security will look at these non-exertional limitations, doing a function-by-function analysis of the applicant’s previous job and other potential jobs.
Non-exertional limitations include:
- The inability to stoop, crouch, crawl, or climb
- Being unable to be exposed to specific environmental conditions, such as temperature fluctuations, sunlight, fumes, or dust
- Incapacity of the hands to write, type, and/or reach or handle objects
- Impairment of the ability to speak, see, or hear well
Social Security Disability Mental RFCs
If an applicant claims any type of mental, emotional or psychological illness on their application, Social Security is required to investigate the severity of the condition. If the condition is determined to be severe, the SSA must create a mental Residual Functional Capacity (MRFC).
The MRFC will state an applicant’s ability to:
- carry out instructions
- maintain attention
- perform tasks on a schedule
- keep an ordinary routine without special supervision
- make simple decisions
- exercise basic judgments
- interact appropriately with people
- get along with coworkers or peers
- maintain socially acceptable hygiene
- respond to changes in the work setting
- tolerate normal stress
- maintain regular attendance
- be punctual.
There is no set of automatic “grid” rules for mental RFCs. Instead, Social Security compares the limitations in the MFC to the tasks required in the previous job, to see if the applicant can still do their old job. If not, they will then try to determine whether there are any less mentally demanding jobs the person can do.
And if the applicant cannot do even any simple, unskilled job, they will be found disabled.
Long Beach Social Security Disability Lawyers
Hiring an experienced Social Security Disability lawyer is the best way to ensure that your case gets an RFC that properly reflects how limited your abilities are. Your lawyer can help you collect the medical documentation proving the above physical and/or mental limitations you have.
Our experienced Social Security Disability lawyers have the necessary RFC forms (called “medical source statements”) to send to your doctors, to fully document your medical condition. And we will ensure that this information is submitted to Social Security in a proper and timely fashion – so that they understand that you are unable to work, and will approve your Social Security Disability benefits.