A Residual Functional Capacity form is a special form your doctor can fill out to show all the ways that your disability limits you and why you are not able to work. RFC forms are great. However, not all our RFC forms are treated equally.
Sometimes an RFC form is the single most helpful, most important piece of paper in your entire case. And other times the RFC form is completely ignored and makes no difference at all.
How To Get a Great RFC Form
If you have a lawyer, your lawyer might send the form to your doctor for you. Or you can send it yourself.
Many of our readers have found that it is much, much better to set up a special appointment to sit with your doctor while she fills out the form. This greatly increases the chances that your doctor will actually complete the form.
It also means your doctor can ask you questions in the moment to make sure what they are writing is accurate.
If Your Doc Doesn’t Like Paperwork
Some doctors offices have a policy of “no disability paperwork.“ If this happens to you, don’t give up hope. Many of our readers were in this situation and found solutions: How To Get Your Doctor to Fill Out Disability Paperwork
Tip: Don’t talk to the office staff. Doctor’s office staff people are sometimes trained to automatically say “no disability paperwork” or to refuse appointments for disability paperwork. Try talking directly to your doctor.
Happy Tale / Cautionary Tale
Happy Tale: Lilac set up an appointment to meet with her doctor. At the beginning of the appointment, she explained that she was applying for disability and how much it would help/change her life if he would assist her this one time with this one form. She handed him the form along with a short list of her medical tests, with dates and outcomes. The doctor spent the rest of the appointment filling out the form and asking Lilac questions about all the answers.
Cautionary tale: Allysum was applying for disability for an auto-immune condition. Allysum’s lawyer sent function forms to all her doctors. Some did not respond. One who did respond was a doctor she had seen a few times for headaches. The headache doctor wrote that Allysum was not disabled and had no limitations with sitting, standing, walking, or working. Allysum had no idea any of this was happening until after her hearing was over and she read the judge’s denial letter.
10 Ingredients for a Great RFC Form
1. The Right Kind of Form
Social Security publishes their version of an RFC form. However, many disability lawyers do not use a Social Security version, because it leaves out some very important questions that can help your case. Here is where you can find some special customized forms created by disability lawyers that ask exactly the right questions for your condition: Sample Residual Functional Capacity Forms
🌷 Tip: If you aren’t sure which form to use, just use a physical RFC. This can be used for any physical condition.
2. The Right Kind of Doctor
Social Security has some specific rules about how they view doctors. If you are only getting one RFC form, it is a great help if your form is signed by an acceptable medical source. If you get more than one RFC form, it is a great help if at least one is signed by an acceptable medical source. How To Tell If You Are Seeing The Right Kind of Doctor
🌷 Tip: If your practitioner is not an acceptable medical source, sometimes it is possible to get a co-signer on your RFC form. How to Get a Co-Sign
3. Get Physical! And Get Mental!
There are two kinds of RFC forms: mental and physical. It is a huge help if you can get both. Mental RFC forms can be filled out by a mental health practitioner, or by your regular doctor. Sample Residual Functional Capacity Forms
🌷 Tip: Most mental forms include a question asking your doctor if you can manage your own finances. What your doctor writes here may affect you for the rest of your life! Your doctor probably has no idea how important this question is or how much it will impact your life. Learn more: How to Take Steps Now to Avoid a Rep Payee Later
4. Forms for Memory Focus and Concentration
Even if you have not been diagnosed with mental illness, you can use a mental RFC form form if you have any problems with memory, focus, or concentration. These problems might be caused directly by your disability, or by side effects from medications. This form can be filled out by a mental health practitioner or by your primary care doctor.
🌷Tip: Another alternative for this is Neuropsychological Testing.
5. A Doctor Who Supports Your Disability Application
An RFC form can help your disability case. But it can also hurt your disability case. A lot will depend on your doctors medical opinion. How to Tell What Your Doctor REALLY Thinks
🌷 Tip: Sometimes a doctor who is really nice and great at treatment won’t support a disability application. The opposite can also be true! You may be surprised to find out who is and isn’t supportive.
6. Multiple Forms From Multiple Doctors
Getting multiple doctors to fill out forms is not always possible, but you can try! If you pull it off, it can be a big help. How Violet Got More Function Forms than Anybody Ever
🌷Tip: Forms from multiple doctors do not need to list the exact same diagnosis and medical opinion. However, it is helpful if they say somewhat similar things about functioning. For example, if one doctor writes you can walk one block and another doctor writes you can walk one mile, this may cause a problem.
🌷Tip: Don’t be afraid to approach old doctors you are no longer seeing. Just because a doctor didn’t work out for treatment, doesn’t mean they won’t be helpful with paperwork. You never know who might wind up being helpful!
7. Multiple Forms From the Same Doctor
Some people get more than one RFC form from the same doctor. This can be a great help in proving your condition over time. For example, if your doctor is willing, you might ask them to fill out a new RFC form once per year.
🌷 Tip: If your doctor does not write detailed notes in medical records, this can be especially helpful.
8. Consistency With Records
Social Security does not want to just see what your doctor wrote on one form one time. They would like to see similar things appearing in your records over time. How to Have Doctor Visits that Create Accurate Records
9. Knowing What Is In Your Records
The records you see online are not your complete doctor’s notes. Summaries handed to you at the front desk are also not complete. Some of our readers report that their RFC forms were dismissed or ignored because of doctor’s notes. Please collect and read your complete records so you can find out and address any problems or inaccuracies.
🌷 Tip: Some of our readers report problems with their disability case caused by chatting with their doctors about non-medical issues. It’s fine to talk with your doctor about your daily life, just make sure that what you say (and what your doctor writes) is clear. It’s common for doctors to write notes about travel, hobbies, child care, and other daily activities. You want these notes to be accurate.
10. Objective Medical Evidence
There is a question that asks for “objective medical evidence.” This may include lab tests or other kind of testing or any kind of medical findings during office visits. If you are applying for a physical health problem, this question is incredibly important. If it is left blank, the form it may be ignored. How to Get Medical Tests to Help Your Application and How Medical Signs Can Be Evidence
🌷 Tip: Your doctor may not find/remember every test you ever took, so can be very helpful to bring a short list of any tests you had with date, lab and outcome. You only need to list tests that showed some kind of abnormal result. Even one test is sometimes enough.
Tips For Getting Forms
Presenting the Forms
Here’s the instructions Lilac’s lawyer gave her:
Dear Lilac Flowers,
Enclosed find four Physician Statements. Please fill out two yourself and then take them to your specialist and your primary doctor.
Inform your doctor that you filled out these forms stating what you can do and ask them to fill out the forms based on their medical opinion as to what you can do.
State that Social Security wants treating physician’s opinions based on their findings and backed by exam procedures and diagnostic tests. This is their medical opinion and not a functional capacity exam.
A Special Appointment
If you mail or send your doctor a form, you are giving your doctor homework! Unpaid homework! Sit with your doctor while the form is being filled out. They will be paid for their time, and they won’t have to put anything else in their “to do” bin.
Tip: Some of our readers reported that when they try to set up an appointment to fill out paperwork, the person at the front desk did not want to give them an appointment! They found they had more success scheduling a regular visit, and then talking directly with the doctor.
Many of our readers report that their doctors were very appreciative of having a sample form. Some readers said their doctor found it helpful when they brought two forms: one filled by patient with patient’s own opinion of their limitations, and then a second blank form for the doctor to complete. Lilac’s letter above shows the instructions her lawyer gave for presenting sample forms.
Functional Capacity Exams
Some doctors insist they cannot fill out these forms, and instead refer you to a Functional Capacity Exam with a Physical Therapists. These exams are often not covered by insurance, and can cost $500-$1,000.
If you can afford it, it can be great to get an exam like this, but you still want your doctor to fill out the RFC form! Social Security wants to see your doctor’s medical opinion.
Lilac’s letter above does a great job of explaining how to tell your doctor that you are not looking for a function exam. Social Security needs the treating physicians medical opinion.
If you feel shy or nervous asking your doctor, bring a friend or family member who can ask for you. That’s what Jamesia did. It worked! Jamesia’s Guide to How to Help a Friend Get Approved
Talk About The Eight Hour Day
Make sure to let your doctor know what you are capable of doing consistently throughout an eight hour work day. For example, if your doctor asks “how much can you lift?” Don’t tell them what you can lift one time once per week. Let them know what you would be able to regularly lift throughout the day if you had a job that involved lifting. Great video: How Does Social Security Define Sitting, Standing and Walking?
Talk About Repercussions
How much you can you lift… “I can lift x pounds before causing pain or injury.”
How far can you walk… “I can walk x feet before needing to pause and rest.”
How long can you sit… “I can sit up for x minutes before I start to have y symptom”
Submit the Right Way
The best form in the world will not help you if the person making the decision never reads or sees it. Sadly, some of our readers report getting denied for this reason (even ones with lawyers). Here’s How to Submit Records
💮 This page is part of the free online guide: The Sleepy Girl Guide to Social Security Disability
💮 Learn more about this topic here: How to Work with Your Doctor to Get Great Disability Documentation
💮 Page Updated: 7/1/19
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