The term "residual functional capacity" refers to what a Social Security Disability claimant can do in a work setting on a sustained basis, day in and day out. It is key in determining whether he meets the definition of a "disability" under the Social Security Disability statute. Here's how it works.
Social Security typically goes through a five-step inquiry in determining whether somebody is "disabled" under the statute and rules. The first question is whether the person has worked since the disability began, and the second question is whether the Social Security Disability claimant meets and "impairment listing." For more about "impairment listings," read here. If a Claimant does not meet an impairment listing, and many do not, then Social Security will determine a claimant's residual functional capacity.
In many of our cases, the clients we represent are clearly no longer able to do their past relevant work. The term "past relevant work" generally refers our client's work history in the 15 years prior to the date the disability began. Even if a Social Security Disability claimant proves that he is no longer able to return to his past work, depending upon his age, he must then prove that there are no other jobs that exist in the national economy that he can perform within its limits.
For example, if a logger suffers a serious knee injury, and his doctor permanently restricts the logger from returning to any kind of logging work, that individual worker will certainly have a severe medical impairment, and will not be able to go back to his past work. However, it is possible that our injured logger may still be able to do lighter work. For example, the injured logger may be able to work at a convenience store as a cashier, or as a customer service clerk in a retail setting. This is because these jobs are less physically demanding.
In order to determine whether a Social Security Disability claimant can return to other less strenuous work, Social Security determines the physical and mental abilities that still remain, even after a serious health issue or injury. Social Security will look at the medical records, statements and forms filled out by the Claimant and his friends and family, as well as medical opinions regarding a claimant's ability to perform work activity.
Many of the physicians who review cases for Social Security do not understand that in evaluating a person's ability to perform work, the Claimant must be able to perform the work on a regular and sustained basis, and not just a few days a week, or a few hours a day. The rules and policy statements tell us that a physician, nurse practitioner, physician's assistant, or any other health care provider is just as able to make a determination on a person's residual functional capacity.
If you are in the middle of a Social Security disability claim, and have questions about the evidence in your file regarding your ability to perform other kinds of work, give us a call at 503-325-8600. We can explain how a physician's opinion can help your claim.