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.

What Do They Mean When They Say I Need to Show I am Unable to Work?

You may be eligible for disability if you are unable to work full time because of your medical condition. What is full time work? What kind of work are they talking about? Learn more.

How Do I Prove I Can’t Function?

Here 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 these things for you. Your lawyer will not collect most of these things either. If you want them, you gotta get them yourself.



The following documents can be signed by an Acceptable Medical Source. That’s what makes them so great! Social Security loves it when you get things 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
  • Doctors notes that include clinical observations about your functioning
  • Medical records about medication side effects that affect functioning
  • 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)
  • Any test in the world that is reviewed and analyzed by a doctor, and the doctor’s report finds that these tests results prove an inability or limitation in performing certain activities.
  • Any test in the world that is included by your doctor on an RFC form. The RFC form includes a question about “objective medical evidence.” If your doctor lists a test there, that test will be seen as connected to your doctor’s opinion about your functioning.



These documents are not signed by an acceptable medical source. That’s what puts them on the Good List instead of the Great List. They can still be very good. But they can’t stand on their own. They need to be backed up by something on the great list.

  • Physical RFC forms signed by naturopathic doctors
  • Mental RFC forms signed by therapists and counselors
  • Letters signed by naturopathic doctors
  • Wheelchair assessments 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
  • Evaluations by a physical or occupational therapist
  • 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 (free state agencies)
  • Reports from private vocational experts (someone you hire)
  • CPETs for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (Sometimes. Some CPET reports include functional evaluations, some do not)
  •  If you want to improve these records even more, here are some ideas for: What to Do With Reports that are Not Signed by an Acceptable Medical Source



These documents are not medical documents. That’s why they are on the Sometimes Good list. However, they can still help your case a whole lot! These documents can be a very good help to your case, but ONLY if they are consistent to what is described in your medical records. If your doctor writes that you are not very limited, and your friend writes that you are extremely limited, Social Security will ignore your friend and only listen to your doctor.

  • letters from caregivers (friends, family, anyone who assists you)
  • letters from employers that discuss functioning
  • personnel files from your current or previous work
  • 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)
  • Adult Function / Activities of Daily Living (will be sent to you after you first apply)
  • Third Party Forms (may be sent to your contact person after you first apply)
  • Answering questions during an appeal hearing



These tests are wonderful! And they can help your case a lot! But they don’t prove “functioning”. They prove something different! They prove you have a “medically determined impairment.” That is a great and important thing to prove! But it doesn’t get you off the hook. You still need to prove functioning.

  • X-Rays
  • Bloodwork
  • Scans
  • MRIs
  • Most other medical tests



One more thing that can prove functioning is Vocational rehabilitation records and job training records. If you list the contact information for a rehab program on your application, Social Security may collect these records. Sometimes these help, sometimes they hurt – it depends what is in the records.

It is hard to know what list to put this on because Vocab rehab files may include a range of different types of materials, such as: Medical assessments of your limitations (the great list), occupational therapy assessments (the good list), and notes from caseworkers (the sometimes good list).

Voc Rehab programs are usually free and available through state agencies in most areas. They are designed to help people with disabilities go back to work, and they may also provide testing to see if going back to work is possible. If you are in a Vocational Rehab program, Social Security may read the notes written by anyone you meet or talk with there.


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