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Residual Functional Capacity and Your Disability Claim

Posted on in Social Security Disability

In order to be adjudicated as disabled before a Social Security Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), an attorney or claimants representative must follow and complete what is called the five step Social Security disability evaluation process. The evaluation process asks the individual seeking disability benefits five separate questions: (1) Are you working and are you performing substantial gainful activity; (2) Is your condition severe; (3) Does your condition meet or exceed a listed impairment; (4) Can you do previous work; and (5) What work can you do. While each of the five steps must be proven to be adjudicated as disabled, proving the fourth step can often be tricky. The process of proving whether a claimant can do previous work is determined by an individual's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). This blog post explains what RFC is and why it is important to every disability claim before an ALJ.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates what someone's RFC is by determining the most work that a claimant can do despite any of his or her limitations. SSA determines the most work that a claimant can do by dividing "work" into four different categories: heavy, medium, light, and sedentary work. It is worth noting that there is sometimes a fifth category that is recognized for very heavy work; however, very heavy work is scarcely used and will not be discussed in this blog post. Whether a claimant wins his or her disability claim is greatly affected by which category he or she is ultimately put into. The lower an individual's RFC level, the greater the chances of meeting the fourth requirement of the five step evaluation process.

The first category of RFC is heavy work. If a claimant can successfully complete tasks at a job where the work is classified as heavy, it will be extremely difficult to be adjudicated as disabled. Heavy work is defined by SSA as lifting "no more than 100 pounds with frequent lifting or carrying of weights up to 50 pounds." Heavy work involves lots of movement and includes heavy lifting and very little sitting.

The second category of RFC is medium work. Medium work is "lifting no more that 50 pounds with frequent lifting or carrying of weights up to 25 pounds." Someone who is performing a job that involves medium work does a lot of walking and moving around. The tasks can be difficult and involve a significant amount of lifting. An example of medium lifting could include moving medium sized boxes in a retail store from one point to another. If a claimant can perform medium work, similar to performing heavy work, it will be difficult for the individual to meet the fourth step of the evaluation process.

The third category of RFC is light work and is defined by SSA as "lifting no more than 20 pounds with frequent lifting or carrying of weights up to 10 pounds." Light work could involve standing and walking and usually involves a lot of hand and arm movement. Shuffling lightweight retail items would be an example of light work activity.

The final of the four RFC categories is sedentary work. Sedentary work is "lifting no more than 10 pounds no prolonged standing and walking." Sedentary work typically involves mostly sitting and although it could involve standing, it would only be occasionally. Lifting in this category might include filing, lifting small objects like staplers or folders, or any other basic very light objects. If an individual can only perform sedentary work, there is a good chance that claimant will meet the fourth step of the Social Security disability evaluation process. For more information about RFC and the category definitions, visit the SSA website.

When a claimant is at a ALJ hearing, eventually the case will move to the fourth step of the five step Social Security disability evaluation process. Once the case reaches the fourth step, the case will turn on a determination of what the claimant's RFC level is. RFC is divided into four distinct categories that classify an individual based on the kinds of work that he or she can perform, despite any limitations they might have. Indicators that the ALJ is at the fourth step are when you hear the Judge ask questions like "how much can you carry?" or "how long can you stand?" The less movement and lifting an individual can perform on the job, the lower his or her RFC level. Every RFC category is different and can play a major role in determining whether a claimant wins his or her disability benefits claim.

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