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Your functional limitations will decide your claim

Your application for Social Security disability benefits will be determined based upon your functional limitations, and how they affect your ability to do work-related activities. In many respects, disability is functionality.

In the context of Social Security disability law, this concept is expressed as Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). The RFC is Social Security’s assessment of your abilities to do sustained physical and mental activities on a regular and continuing basis in a work setting. The RFC considers only those functional limitations resulting from medically determinable impairments.

Social Security looks at your ability to do basic things for an 8-hour workday, like lifting and carrying, standing and walking, and sitting. For those with mental impairments, the SSA will assess the ability to maintain focus and concentration, to follow simple instructions, and interact with other people throughout a workday. These are very basic requirements of any employment.

The resulting RFC is used to determine whether or not you can return to your past relevant work,  or perform other work.

The disability examiner (or, after an appeal of a denied claim, the administrative law judge) must infer your RFC from the disability claim file. Evidence of your work-related limitations can be provided by your medical records, or by medical source statements, which are opinions from your treating medical providers regarding your functional limitations. Social Security must give controlling weight to a your treating doctor’s opinion, if it is “well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in your case record.” See 20 CFR 404.1527(d)(2). This deference to the opinion of a treating physician makes a medical source statement particularly important for diability claimants.

Non-medical evidence can also help to establish your RFC. Limits in your daily activities tend to demonstrate functional limitations. A written statement from a spouse or friend may help to establish your RFC. Testimony at the hearing regarding specific examples of your limitations can also help the disability examiner or the judge to assess your RFC.

Whether medical and non-medical evidence, the goal is to establish physical and/or mental limitations that preclude your ability to work on a regular and continuing basis. You should not rely on your medical records alone to establish your limitations.

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