Residual Function Capacity Assessment for Pneumoconiosis

What Is RFC?

When your pneumoconiosis is not severe enough to meet or equal a listing at Step 3 of the Sequential Evaluation Process, the Social Security Administration will need to determine your residual functional capacity (RFC) to decide whether you are disabled at Step 4 and Step 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process.RFC is a claimant’s ability to perform work-related activities. In other words, it is what you can still do despite your limitations. An RFC for physical impairments is expressed in terms of whether the Social Security Administration believes you can do heavymediumlight, or sedentary work in spite of your impairments. The lower your RFC, the less the Social Security Administration believes you can do.

Assessing Impairment Caused by Pneumoconiosis

An individual with pneumoconiosis may have both restrictive lung disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The combination of their effects are more limiting than either alone. However, the claimant’s activities of daily living (ADLs) should be carefully evaluated along with all relevant symptoms—especially in regard to exertional levels that produce shortness of breath, coughing, and fatigue. Such a claimant could easily be restricted to sedentary work or even be of equivalent severity to that required by the listing.

There are many ways in which an individual can be exposed to substances that can cause pneumoconiosis. Knowledge of the kinds of dusts present in various kinds of work is beyond the expertise of most medical doctors, including those who create RFCs for the SSA or treating physicians. At most, the RFC will contain environmental limitations expressed in a general requirement for avoidance of excessive dust and fumes. Even treating pulmonary specialists might not be thoroughly familiar with the various exposure risks of different jobs. Therefore, regarding a claimant’s ability to return to prior work or perform other work, SSA’s vocational expert (analyst) must be extremely knowledgeable about occupational hazards to avoid an erroneous decision. Indeed, specialized knowledge of the relationship of pneumoconioses to various occupations is a specialized area in itself. Even pulmonary medical experts specializing in pneumoconiosis do not know everything about all possible kinds of exposure in various occupations.

What these difficulties amount to, in clinical medicine, is that it may take a multi-disciplinary team to determine what kind of work a person with pneumoconiosis can perform—pulmonary disease specialists, occupational medicine specialists, and vocational experts. The SSA does not have the resources for an in-depth development of all possible relevant environmental work issues, even when a SSA vocational expert is conscientious. Such resources may also, from a monetary and time standpoint, not be available to claimant representatives either. In a younger claimant, expanded investigation of this issue in relation to jobs cited by the SSA as a basis of denial could be irrelevant to the final determination, but possibly not in some older claimants.

Continue to Getting Your Doctor’s Medical Opinion About What You Can Still Do.

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