Requesting a Residual Functional Capacity from your Treating Physician

In our prior blog post we discussed how important it is to obtain supportive residual functional capacity questionnaires from one’s treating physicians.  In this follow-up blog, we’ll advice you as to the best way to go about requesting these forms from your doctors.

First, and of primary importance, it’s important to understand that an ongoing, consistent and lengthy relationship with your provider should be established prior to requesting they provide you with a questionnaire.   Your doctor is more interested in attempting to treat your condition and they want to see that this remains your priority as well.

In order to establish a claim for Social Security disability, one needs to show that they remain totally disabled from all forms of gainful employment, despite prescribed treatment, for what will be a year or longer.   With this in mind, exhausting medical treatment avenues prior to seeking opinions from your physicians needs to remain one’s first priority.  

As a Social Security lawyer practicing throughout Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire for the past 28 years, I have spoken with many doctors (and in a hospital setting to groups as well) who have complained that too many of their patients are showing up to their initial appointments with residual functional capacity questionnaires in hand.  As I have explained to them, this is counterproductive to a potential Social Security disability claim.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) is not about to provide much weight to questionnaire that would be filled out at the time of an initial appointment.  Your physician’s hope, as should be yours, when establishing care should be that they will be able to provide  you with some solutions to your medical problems such that so that a successful return to work might be achieved.

Assuming you have established a longer term, consistent relationship with your treatment provider, and that you have attempted zealous treatment through their office, it would be hoped that a sympathetic relationship has been established such that your doctor understands how severely your condition is impacting you.  We always suggest to our clients that you sit down with your doctor and remind them of how long you have remained out of work as a result of your ongoing condition.  They will understand at that point why you’ve had to apply for Social Security disability benefits.

Likewise, having established a longer term relationship with your doctor, they will understand the efforts you’ve made to get better.   It is at this point you can explain to them that as part of your claim it’s important that the Social Security Administration (SSA) hear from your doctor as to the nature and severity of your condition and how it’s been impacting your ability to function in a work setting.   Otherwise, SSA will simply rely on the opinions they receive from their own doctors who are reviewing simply a paper file and have never examined you or spoken with you.

With that being said, you can then provide them with not only the questionnaire, but a partially completed “guide” form that explains on a separate copy what you believe your limitations have been.  This process should be undertaken during the course of an office visit so that filling out the form can be made as part of the office visit: in this way the cost of filling out the form can be addressed by the paid office visit and you are there to explain to the doctor 1) why it is you’ve needed to apply, 2) the importance of the questionnaire and 3) can assist with any questions the doctor may have for you at the time.   You should not offer that the form is being provided to you by an attorney (as they may seek the request from the attorney, and by doing so attempt to charge a large fee for filling out the form: unfortunately, because of the contingent nature of representation, where attorneys are only getting paid if they win, attorneys cannot afford to expend such costs on behalf of the client, and assuming the doctor does attempt to charge a fee, such cost does need to be addressed by the client).

Finally, it’s important that the form is being filled out by the doctor or the doctor’s office (and is not at all in your handwriting).  While some attorneys, so I’ve heard, feel comfortable filling out the forms themselves, I do not believe this is appropriate or beneficial to the claimant as the form should reflect without a doubt the doctor’s opinion (and it is for this reason the guide likewise needs to be on a separate form, with the doctor filling out a complete, blank questionnaire in their handwriting).

Should you fail to provide the questionnaire request in person, during an appointment, you are highly likely to see that either 1) his/her staff will explain to you that the doctor doesn’t address these forms or 2) the form gets lost and never completed.  Thus the reason it’s important to have this conversation with your doctor in person, and that you raise the issue for the first time in person: a personable appeal to the doctor who has been caring for you will provide you with the best chance at getting the form completed, and done so thoroughly and in an empathetic fashion.

If you are someone you care for is struggling to receive the Social Security disability benefits they need, contact the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith at 1-800-773-8622 to see how we might be able to assist them with getting the benefits they deserve.