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Il disability lawyerIn determining eligibility for disability insurance benefits, Social Security must first determine your “residual functional capacity” or RFC. This is an assessment of your ability to work, taking into account any documented physical or mental impairments that you have. By law, Social Security must take all of your limitations into account when formulating an RFC.

Magistrate: Social Security Acknowledged Disability Applicant's Severe Headaches, Yet Did Not Account for Them in RFC

That does not, however, mean that Social Security officials always follow the law. A recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Charlene J. v. Saul, provides a case in point. This case actually involves a plaintiff who filed for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. SSI is a type of benefit available to low-income individuals who do not enough of a work history to qualify for disability insurance (SSDI). That said, Social Security uses the same RFC standards when assessing SSI and SSDI claims, so the issues discussed here also apply to disability cases.

Here, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) determined the plaintiff suffered from a number of impairments, including the loss of vision in one eye, type-2 diabetes, and chronic headaches. The ALJ then found that despite these conditions, the plaintiff had the RFC to perform a “full range of medium work” with certain limits. Based on this RFC, the ALJ said the plaintiff could still perform her prior job as a cashier and denied her application for benefits.


b2ap3_thumbnail_social-security-Chicago_20170402-191104_1.jpgWhen you file a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, an administrative law judge (ALJ) must review your case and determine, among other things, your “residual functional capacity” or RFC. The RFC is basically an assessment of your current work-related capabilities, taking into account your medical impairments. Additionally, an RFC classifies your ability to perform “sedentary,” “light,” or “medium” work, as well as whether you can perform the same type of job as performed before the onset of your disability.

Social Security Not Allowed to Ignore All Evidence, Make Up Their Own

A Social Security ALJ is not supposed to make up an RFC out of thin air. The ALJ must review expert medical opinions offered by your treating physician and any state agency doctors who review your medical records. The ALJ does not have to accept any medical opinion that is not supported by evidence; however, there does have to be some evidence in support of an RFC determination.


arthritis, RFC, Chicago SSDI lawyerIn previous posts we have explained how arthritis may qualify you for Social Security Disability insurance benefits and why it is not enough to simply claim you are unable to work due to arthritis without supporting evidence. An important consideration for Social Security when assessing a disability claim is how arthritis, taken in combination with all of an applicant’s medical disorders, affects his or her “residual functional capacity,” or RFC—that is, their ability to work taking into account all such limitations. An RFC assessment is critical to a disability case, yet many Social Security officials fail to follow the law in this area.

Are You Capable of Even Performing “Sedentary” Work?

A Social Security claims examiner typically performs an RFC assessment for each applicant. The applicant may also ask his or her own treating physician to complete an independent RFC assessment. This is generally a good idea as your own doctor will have a much better understanding of your medical history and functional limitations than a government bureaucrat.


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