How Well Can You Function? (aka the key to winning EVERY disability claim)

Artwork: Robin Mead

Social Security is pretty obsessed with functioning. They want to see evidence that you can’t work and can’t function.

If you’ve been turned down for disability or someone you know was turned down, and you don’t know why this happened, there is a good chance that it was because of functioning. Time to prove functioning!

What is Physical Functioning?

For physical conditions, functioning is how well and how long you can walk, sit, stand, stoop, bend, twist, turn, grasp, lift and other physical activities.

What is Mental Functioning?

For mental health and cognitive problems, functioning is how well you can focus, concentrate, follow directions, and remember things. It can also be your ability to have interactions with other people. Sometimes people with physical illnesses also have problems with mental functioning, due to pain, fatigue, or side effects from medications.

How Do I Prove I Can’t Function?

Below is a long list of documents you can send to Social Security that will prove you have problems functioning. Hint: Social Security will not collect most of these things for you. Your lawyer will not collect many of these things either. If you want them, the best thing you can do is collect them yourself and work with your lawyer or Disability Examiner to make sure they get into your file at Social Security.

Twenty Two Great Ways To Prove Functioning

  1. Physical RFC forms
  2. Mental RFC forms
  3. Doctor’s letters that discuss functioning
  4. Ongoing medical records that document functioning
  5. Ongoing doctor visits that document functioning
  6. Documenting medical equipment
  7. Records from assessments for wheelchairs or other equipment
  8. Neuropsychological tests (also helpful for lyme, ME, CFS, MCS, etc)
  9. Psychiatric evaluations
  10. Doctors treatments notes that include clinical observations about functioning
  11. Medical records about medication side effects that affect functioning
  12. Evaluations by rehabilitation doctors or physiatrists
  13. Evaluations by occupational medicine doctors
  14. SOAR reports – if you are homeless or at-risk, mental health
  15. Workplace accommodation letters signed by your doctor.
  16. Forms a doctor or nurse filled out if you applied for home aides
  17. IQ Tests interpreted by a psychologist from before and after disability
  18. Functional Capacity Exams (especially if co-signed by your doctor)
  19. Social Worker Assessment (especially if co-signed by your doctor)
  20. CPET tests for CFS or ME (especially if co-signed by your doctor)
  21. Testing performed by doctors from Vocational Rehabilitation Programs
  22. Student loan disability discharge paperwork filled out by your doctor

So Important

Social Security has very specific rules about doctors. If your documents are signed by the wrong kind of doctor they may be ignored!  Acceptable Medical Source Rules

Eleven Support Documents to Help Show Functioning

These documents are not medical documents. But they can still be a big help in your disability case. Please focus on the medical documents first (These are most important!). Then any of the following can also be helpful:

  1. letters from caregivers (friends, family, anyone who assists you)
  2. letters from employers that discuss functioning
  3. personnel files from your current or previous work
  4. symptom diaries or statements from you (sometimes helps, not always)
  5. school records showing disability accommodations
  6. records or letters from any nonprofit agencies or programs that assisted you
  7. your file from disability program (meals on wheels, paratransit, home care, etc)
  8. Adult Function / Activities of Daily Living (will be sent to you)
  9. Third Party Forms (may be sent to your contact person after you first apply)
  10. Your answers to questions during an appeal hearing
  11. If you have a social worker or caseworker: Social Worker Assessment

Won’t Prove Functioning!

These documents won’t prove functioning, but they can still be very helpful and very important. They are helpful in proving you have a “medically determined impairment.” Ideally, it is great if you can prove both.

  • X-Rays
  • Blood Test Results
  • Scans
  • MRIs
  • Most other medical tests


Sadly, many of our readers report getting great documents that were misplaced, misfiled, or never made it to the person making the decision. Please make sure this doesn’t happen to you: How to Submit Your Documents

What Do You Think? 

Please comment below with stories, ideas, questions or suggestions. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working. 

Updated May 2018. If you found this page helpful, please share it with others by pressing one of these magic little buttons: 

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