What is residual functional capacity?

In Social Security parlance, the term “residual functional capacity” refers to the remaining abilities of someone who has a disability, after taking the disability into account. For example, imagine that you were paralyzed from the waist down and could not walk. The Code of Federal Regulations would define your residual functional capacity as “the most you can still do despite your limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.945 (2010).

The term “residual functional capacity” also refers to a pair of forms, one for assessing mental residual functional capacity, and one for assessing physical residual functional capacity. When someone files an application seeking Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) or Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) on the basis of a disability, Disability Determination Services (a network of local Social Security Administration field offices and state agencies) evaluates the applicant’s residual functional capacity using these forms.

Suppose that Nathan Bonaparte, who lives in Beavercreek, Ohio, has been blinded permanently as the result of an accident at work. If he decided to apply for SSDI benefits, then he could apply online, by mail, by telephone or in person at a Social Security Administration field office. His application would be evaluated by an examiner working for the Social Security Administration. The examiner would evaluate Nathan’s application based on non-medical eligibility requirements, such as age, employment, marital status and so on. After that, Nathan’s application would next be reviewed by Disability Determination Services (“DDS”).

DDS would then make the initial determination of whether Nathan qualified as disabled for purposes of SSDI benefits. To make this determination, DDS would rely on the medical information provided by Nathan and, depending on whether Nathan provided sufficient documentation, on a consultative examination conducted by physicians working for DDS. Although Nathan’s disability might not automatically qualify him to receive SSDI benefits, DDS might determine that he qualified as the result of limited residual functional capacity. In other words, if Nathan’s residual functional capacity were not sufficient to allow him to return to his job, or to find a new job, then he might be approved for SSDI benefits.

The analysis of residual functional capacity can be complicated, particularly if an applicant has more than one disability or medical condition. Unfortunately, DDS denies applications more often than it approves them. If you have questions about applying for SSDI or SSI benefits, or if your application has been denied and you want to appeal, then you should speak with an attorney who specializes in Social Security issues.  If you would like more information or have been wrongfully denied Social Security Benefits then call the Law Offices of John T. Nicholson at 1-800-596-1533 or complete our online free consultation form.