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What is a functional capacity examination?

The Social Security Act and accompanying regulations governing disability benefits contain many terms that are not easily understood by the average Ohioan. One of these terms is “functional capacity examination.” What exactly does this term mean? And how does its application affect a person’s eligibility to receive disability benefits.

In simple words, a functional capacity examination is an evaluation by the Social Security Administration of a person’s remaining capacity to perform useful work after he or she has suffered a disabling injury or illness. The assessment is based on an evaluation of a person’s mental or physical capabilities that remain after the illness or injury has taken effect. One of the central purposes of a functional capacity examination is to determine if a person is still unable to work according to federal requirements and eligible to continue receiving benefits.

The SSA first looks at a person’s physical abilities to perform relevant work functions, such as standing, sitting, walking, lifting or carrying. If a person’s disability is based all or in part on a mental condition, the SSA will evaluate a person’s ability to understand, remember and carry out instructions. The nature and scope of the functional capacity examination is determined to some extent by the nature of the original injury or illness that caused the disabling condition.

The claimant is initially responsible for assembling the evidence that the SSA will consider in conducting the functional capacity examination. Evidence can include medical evaluations, statements from co-workers or supervisors and any other information that bears upon a person’s ability to work. The assistance of an attorney who specializes in social security disability claims can be very helpful in compiling the evidence to be submitted to the SSA. A knowledgeable lawyer can ensure that the evidence as complete and as persuasive as possible, thus maximizing the chances that benefits will not be terminated.

Source: 20 Code of Federal Regulations §416.945, “Your residual functional capacity,” accessed on May 8, 2016

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