When Social Security Security evaluates a claim for disability, it uses a 5-step sequential evaluation. For steps 4 & 5 of the sequential evaluation, Social Security assesses your functional limitations and incorporates those limitations into a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). That RFC is then compared to the requirements of competitive work to determine whether or not a person claiming disability is disabled under Social Security’s rules.
When evaluating a claim for disability, the RFC assessed by the state Disability Determination Services (DDS) should always be the starting place. What limitations did the state agency find? What work would be precluded by the RFC? These are the first questions to explore when evaluating a claim.
From this starting place, one can then evaluate the medical evidence to see what evidence may be missing and what could be supplemented. As always, obtaining opinions from a treating medical provider regarding a patient’s functional limitations is highly desirable.
An administrative law judge will often use the DDS RFC as a starting point (and sometimes, a finishing point). Even though an ALJ hearing is a de novo review of the claim, the DDS RFC is always considered.
Early involvement by a disability lawyer in the disability claim can help. If the lawyer by developing evidence can move the RFC closer towards disability at the state agency level, then it may be easier to establish disability at the ALJ hearing. The case may also be won your case at Reconsideration, which is even better. Either way, the early involvement of a disability lawyer can help to frame the issues and develop the evidence well before the judge takes a first look at the case.