• Justin S. Raines

What is a disability claimant’s mental residual functional capacity?


When a person applies for Social Security disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is required to consider how their severe physical or mental illness or injury limits their ability to work.


If a disability claimant’s severe physical or mental impairments do not meet or equal a listing at step three of the five-step sequential analysis, the SSA will then determine the claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC).


This is true whether you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSD, SSDI, or DIB) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).


A disability claimant’s RFC is the most that the person can do on a regular and continuing basis, which means forty-hours a week of work or an equivalent work schedule.


Just as an RFC can have exertional and nonexertional limitations, an RFC can also have physical or mental limitations.


Limitations are any impairment of a disability claimant’s ability to perform basic work activities.

Social Security rulings have outlined some of the basic mental work demands for unskilled work. These include the following abilities:

(1) carrying out simple instructions;

(2) understanding simple instructions;

(3) remembering simple instructions;

(4) responding appropriately to supervision;

(5) responding appropriately to coworkers;

(6) responding appropriately to usual work supervisions;

(7) dealing with changes in a routine work setting; and

(8) responding to normal or even low workplace stress.


When a disability claimant is substantially limited in the ability to perform one or more basic work activities, the SSA will usually find them disabled. But many claimants have limitations in these areas that do not completely preclude their performance of work.


For these cases, a far-more detailed mental RFC is required, especially at the administrative law judge (ALJ) level of review. The SSA has created a detailed mental RFC form for Disability Determination Services (DDS), non-treating, non-examining physicians to use. These are some of the most important abilities from those forms:

(1) The ability to understand and remember very short and simple instructions.

(2) The ability to carry out very short and simple instructions.

(3) The ability to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods.

(4) The ability to perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance. and be punctual within customary tolerances.

(5) The ability to sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision.

(6) The ability to work in coordination with or proximity to others without being distracted by them.

(7) The ability to make simple work-related decisions.

(8) The ability to complete a normal work-day and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods.

(9) The ability to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors.

(10)The ability to get along with coworkers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes.

(11)The ability to maintain socially appropriate behavior and to adhere to basic standards of neatness and cleanliness.

(12)The ability to respond appropriately to changes in the work setting.

(13)The ability to be aware of normal hazards and take appropriate precautions.


If a person has a severe impairment of any one of these abilities, disability benefits will usually be awarded.


If you have a severe physical or mental illness or injury, you should consult with an attorney experienced in Social Security disability for help and advice proving your case.

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