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

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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, it was probably 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.

What is the Best Way to Prove Functioning?

The best documents to prove functioning are signed or created by an Acceptable Medical Source. However, you can also have a mix. Some documents that are signed by an Acceptable Medical Source and some that are not. The more the merrier! It’s great to have as much proof of functioning as you can get.

What Documents Can I Send Social Security?

Here is a long list of documents you can send to Social Security that will prove you have problems functioning. Pro tip: Social Security will not collect these things for you. Your lawyer will not collect most of these things either. If you want them, you gotta get them yourself.


Great Proof of Functioning

If you can get any of the following this can be GREAT proof of functioning. To be really helpful, they need to be created or signed or co-signed by an Acceptable Medical Source:

  • Physical RFC forms
  • Mental RFC forms
  • Doctor’s letters that discuss functioning
  • Ongoing medical records that document functioning
  • Ongoing doctor visits that address functioning
  • Documenting medical equipment that is prescribed by a doctor (wheelchair, walker, cane, mobility scooter, shower chair, etc)
  • Records from assessment for medical equipment performed by a doctor
  • Neuropsychological tests by a psychologist or psychiatrist
  • Psychiatric evaluations that address functioning
  • Medical records about medication side effects that affect functioning
  • Functional evaluations by rehabilitation doctor or physiatrist
  • Evaluations by occupational medicine doctor
  • SOAR reports – if you are homeless or at-risk
  • Any forms your doctor signed when you applied for a home care program
  • IQ Tests interpreted by a psychologist from before and after (if you had one before you got sick and one after you got sick and they show a drop in IQ)

Often (But Not Always) Great Proof of Functioning

These documents are not signed by an acceptable medical source. They can be a wonderful help if they are similar to what is written by your doctor or if they are similar to what appears elsewhere in your medical records. However, they sometimes are not as helpful on their own, without a doctor’s support. Learn more about What to Do With Reports that are Not Signed by an Acceptable Medical Source

  • Functional evaluations by a physical therapist
  • Functional capacity evaluation by an occupational therapist
  • Physical RFC forms signed by naturopathic doctors
  • Mental RFC forms signed by therapists and counselors
  • Letters signed by naturopathic doctors
  • Wheelchair assessments (often performed by physical or occupational therapists)
  • Assessments for other medical equipment (ditto)
  • Assessments from caseworkers in home care programs
  • Assessments and files from other kinds of caseworkers
  • records from physical and occupational therapists
  • letters and records by a therapist or counselor that discuss functioning
  • Letters and records from a caseworker or social worker that discuss functioning
  • Files from vocational rehabilitation programs
  • Reports from private vocational experts
  • CPETs for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (Sometimes. Some CPET reports include functional evaluations, some do not)

Also Helpful Under the Right Circumstances

These documents can be a good help to your case, but ONLY if they are similar to what is described in your medical records:

  • letters from caregivers (friends, family, aides, etc) that discuss functioning
  • letters from employers that discuss functioning
  • employment records showing disability accommodations
  • employment records showing illness-related problems
  • symptom diaries or statements from you (sometimes helps, sometimes hurts)
  • school records showing disability accommodations
  • records from any nonprofit agencies or programs that assisted you
  • records from any disability program (meals on wheels, paratransit, etc)

Like It or Not

These things are required by Social Security. You are going to do them no matter what. The first three forms are sent to you soon after you first apply, or sometimes they will call and ask you the questions on the phone instead of sending a form.

Important: If your answers are similar to the things written by your doctor, these can support your case. If your answers are different than what is in your medical records, what you say or write here will not help you.

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