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SSD SSI Definitions
SSDRC authored by Tim Moore
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Residual functional capacity is how Social Security decides you can't work
When a social security disability or SSI disability case is approved or denied by a disability examiner, the disability decison is based on the claimant's ability to work, or inability to work. To be considered uanble to work and, thus, have eligibility for disability benefits, a claimant must be found to be unable to perform past work (jobs that have been done in the last 15 years) and also unable to perform other work (jobs that a person might conceivably do, based on their age, education, skills, and functional limitations).
Sounds fairly simple, right? However, the most obvious question is...how does social security determine if a person can no longer work?
This is how: after a claimant's medical records are collected, they are read and analyzed to determine to what extent, and in what ways, a person may be limited by their physical impairments, mental impairments, or both. This determination of a claimant's functional limitations is translated into something called an RFC, which stands for residual functional capacity.
Residual functional capacity can be thought of as "what a person is still able to do, despite the effects of their impairment or impairments". A residual functional capacity assessment is written up on an RFC form by a disability examiner (examiners work at state agencies that make disability decisions for the social security administration) and it is valid after it receives the signature of a unit medical consultant (an M.D.) or a unit psychological consultant (a Ph.D. level psychologist).
In many claims, of course, since a claimant will have both physical and mental conditions that need to be evaluated, there will be both a mental and a physical residual functional capacity assessment performed by the disability examiner and the doctors who are assigned to the examiner's unit.
Residual functional capacity is basically a way to give a claimant a rating, based on what their medical records have to say about their condition. And, based on A. the residual functional capacity assessment that is determined for the claimant, B. the type of work a claimant has done in the past, and C. a claimant's education, age, and work skills (which will decide the other types of work which a claimant might possibly be able to do), a disability claimant will either be denied for disability or awarded disability benefits.
Return to: Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions
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Who is eligible for SSI, how do I apply?
How to File for SSI
Permanent disability benefits
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What Conditions Qualify For Social Security Disability?
Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:
Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI
These pages provide answers to basic questions about pursuing disability benefits
What Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?
Disability for a mental condition
Tips for Filing for disability
Financial Help Filing For Disability
Checklist for filing for disability, SSI or SSD
Qualifying for disability benefits, how to qualify for SSD or SSI
Filing a disability application: the steps
Disability award notice, how long it takes to get benefits
How to Apply for Disability - Where do I go?
What makes you eligible to get disability?
How to check my disability claim status?
Can a disability attorney speed up a disability case?
SSI disability Award Letter
How long to get approved for disability?
How to apply for disability benefits
How long does disability back pay take?
What are qualifications for getting disability?
What medical conditions can you file disability for?
Disability Lawyer help questions
Social Security Attorneys, Disability Representatives