April 26, 2019

The Functional Capacity Strategy

How to Win Your Crohn’s and Colitis Disability Case Using the Functional Capacity Argument

When you appear before a Social Security judge who is considering your application for disability benefits, you must have a clear, organized and and well thought out argument that explains why you ought to be found disabled.   Social Security defines disability in terms of your inability to work so it stands to reason that any argument for disability should focus on your work capacity.

A functional capacity argument is one theory of disability that you and your lawyer can use to prove that you cannot work and thus should be deemed eligible for Social Security disability benefits.   When making a functional capacity argument, you are basically saying to the judge “the symptoms associated with my Crohns/colitis/IBD are so distracting that I would not be able to get through a work day without excessive bathroom breaks.  Further, at least once a week I would miss work completely because I would be unable to leave my house.   In other words, my capacity to work has been so damaged by my symptoms, I would not be a reliable employee.”

You can also argue that your capacity to work is also negatively affected by your medications and their side effects.   Significant side effects like drowsiness, confusion and muscle weakness can also impact your capacity to work.

Symptoms Must be More than “Mild” to Significantly Reduce Your Capacity

While judges do realize that Crohn’s/colitis/IBD will produce unpleasant symptoms, you and your attorney have the burden of proving that these symptoms are more than mildly uncomfortable.  Mild gastric upset and a bout of diarrhea once a month is probably not enough to convince a judge that you cannot perform any type of work.  You and your attorney need to prove with medical record documentation that (1) you have been diagnosed with Crohn’s/colitis, IBD or a related condition and (2) that the symptoms you experience are severe enough to cause you to miss excessive time form work or that these symptoms would prevent you from performing even a simple, entry-level, unskilled job.

How Do You Prove that Your IBS Would Get You Fired from even a Simple, Entry Level Job?

Because Social Security judges see claimants every day who claim that they are disabled, your assertion that “I am disabled due to my Crohn’s” is not sufficient.  Instead, you and your attorney need to submit medical records that reflect on-going treatment and a firm diagnosis from a treating doctor.   Ideally, your doctor’s notes will include references to activity limitations (for example, your doctor’s notes may document a hospital stay, or periods of time when you were bedridden).

Even better, if your doctor will cooperate, your disability lawyer may ask your doctor to complete a “functional capacity form” that allows the doctor to check of specific activity limitations that are most relevant to the judge.   Your chances of success increase greatly if your doctor will cooperate and fill out a functional capacity form.

Functional capacity forms work well because you are not asking your doctor to say that you are “disabled” or not.  Instead, your doctor need only identify a few activity limitations that he/she feels are associated with your condition.  Functional capacity forms for Social Security are much more informal than functional capacity evaluations sometimes ordered in a workers’ compensation case.  No special testing or equipment is necessary – the only thing that is required is your doctor’s willingness to put his opinion in to writing using a simple, checklist form.

If you and your lawyer submit copies of your medical treatment records showing on-going and long term treatment, and if your doctor will identify reliability limitations on a functional capacity form, you greatly increase your chances for  a fully favorable disability decision.

Where Can You Find a Good Functional Capacity Form?

An experienced Social Security disability lawyer is your best source for functional capacity forms.  Most lawyers have customized forms for a variety of medical conditions – not just Crohn’s and colitis.  Further, experienced lawyers will customize their forms to include all of the work activity limitations that apply in your specific case.  Use the Free Claim Review form on this site to discuss your case with an experienced disability lawyer.