One of the ways the Social Security Administration (SSA) will
evaluate your claim for disability is to look at how your condition
affects your day-to-day life. When you apply for disability, the SSA
will send you a form that asks you to describe your activities of daily
living, or "ADLs."
ADLs are those things we do on a day-to-day basis like cleaning house,
cooking, bathing, getting dressed, using the bathroom, taking care of
pets, and paying bills.
The Function Report
Sometimes Social Security reps refer to the form as the ADL questionnaire, but officially the SSA calls
this form the Function Report, SSA-3373. Here are some examples of the
types of questions that appear on the function report.
- Do you cook your own food? How long does it take you? What do you cook?
- Do you spend time with others?
- What are your hobbies? How often do you do them?
- Do you go places on a regular basis?
- Do you get along well with others?
- Do you need help caring for others or pets?
- Do you need help with bathing, getting dressed, or feeding yourself?
- Do you cook? How often? How long does it take you?
- Are there things you used to do that your disability now stops you from doing?
Why the Function Report Is Important
people don't take the time, or enough time, to complete the function
report because they think it's unimportant, but this is a mistake. The
SSA, including the judges who hear appeals, use the answers on the form
to determine how well you function, and to see if the statements you
make about your condition are consistent. This is why it is so important
to complete the function report with as much detail as possible, and to
be accurate and honest with your answers.
Here are examples of how function reports helped claimants (disability applicants) win their claims.
claimant filed for disability based on lumbar spinal stenosis. On her
function report, the claimant stated that she couldn’t lift her arms to
wash her hair, nor could she bend to tie her shoes. She also reported
that she was unable to stand for more than a few minutes at a time and
so frequently made microwave meals that were quick and simple to
prepare. Later, during her hearing, the administrative law judge (ALJ)
asked the claimant to describe her typical day. The claimant responded
that she awoke, and made cereal for breakfast and would rest on the sofa
until her daughter arrived. Her daughter would then help her dress and,
if needed, wash her hair. These statements were consistent with what
the claimant reported in her function report. The ALJ concluded that the
claimant’s statements were credible and approved her claim.
claimant filed for disability based on severe arthritis in his knees and
shoulders and, as a result, also suffered from significant depression.
On his function report, he stated that he used to enjoy riding horses
and kept several at his property. However, he also reported that his
pain and depression became so severe that he was unable to ride and to
care for the animals. As a result, he was forced to sell the horses. The
SSA used this information to help determine his physical and mental
limitations. Based on these limitations and other factors, the SSA
concluded that the claimant did not have the mental or physical capacity
for full-time work.
The Importance of Consistency
SSA often uses function reports to determine whether claimants’
statements about the limiting effects of their condition are accurate.
ALJs frequently refer to answers on function reports during hearings.
The way they do this is to ask the claimant a question about his or her
ADLs then compare the answer to what the claimant originally reported on
the function report. If the answer the claimant gives in the hearing is
different than what was reported on the ADL, the judge will want to
know why. If the ALJ thinks the claimant lied on the function report or
is lying during the hearing, the claimant may lose his or her case.
Here are some examples of how the answers on a function report resulted in a denial of benefits.
claimant filed for disability based on type 2 diabetes and diabetic
neuropathy. In her activities of daily living report, she stated that
she had difficulty concentrating because of pain related to the
neuropathy. The claimant also reported that she used to go to church but
was no longer able to attend. However, at her hearing, when the ALJ
asked her how she spent her days, she stated that the majority of her
time was spent watching television. The ALJ then asked her if she was
able to follow along with a full one-hour show and she answered yes. The
ALJ also asked the claimant what she did to relax, and the claimant
replied that she enjoyed singing in her church choir. Because the
answers to the ALJ’s questions were not consistent with how she
described her ADLs on her function report, the ALJ decided the claimant
was not credible and denied her claim.
- A claimant applied for
disability based on shoulder impingement syndrome and carpal tunnel
syndrome in both hands. On his function report, the claimant stated he
could no longer dress himself, pay bills, or prepare his own meals.
However, during his hearing testimony, he stated that he was generally
able to care for himself. The ALJ determined that the claimant had
exaggerated the answers on his function report and denied his claim.
For more information, see our article on the importance of credibility to a disability case.
Updating Your Function Report
is important to keep your function report up to date. It is not unusual
for a person’s ADLs to be affected as his or her medical condition
progresses. If your condition changes significantly and you have more
trouble doing daily activities, file a new function report with the SSA.
Clarifying Damaging Answers on Function Reports
a claimant's answers on the function report seem to indicate that the
claimant can do more than he or she can actually do, but that's because
they don't tell the whole story. In these cases, it is important that
the claimant explain answers that seem to hurt his or her claim for
disability. Here are some examples.
- A claimant filed for
disability due to cervical and thoracic back pain. On her function
report, the claimant stated that she was able to do her own laundry. She
also stated that her laundry machine was in the basement of her home.
The ALJ asked how the claimant was able to do this task in light of her
condition, and at first doubted the claimant’s statements about her
symptoms. However, the claimant explained that in order to carry laundry
the laundry down to the basement, she put her laundry in a small waste
basket, then sat on the steps with the basket in her lap and lowered
herself down the steps one at a time. The claimant also testified that
her washing machine and dryer were front loading, and that she sat on a
stool to put the clothes in the machines. She also stated that her
daughter frequently visited to help her take laundry back up the stairs.
The ALJ accepted this explanation, and the claimant was approved.
claimant filed for disability based on chronic heart failure, diabetes
mellitus, and mild emphysema. In his function report, the claimant
stated he lived with his elderly father and provided care for him.
During the hearing, the ALJ questioned the claimant about how he was
able to care for his father if he was disabled. The claimant then
explained that his father had in-home nursing care two hours a day, and
that the claimant’s sister came daily to prepare meals for him and his
father. The claimant also explained that he cared for his father by
paying bills, scheduling doctors’ appointments, and making sure his
father took his medications. The ALJ accepted this explanation and
approved his claim.
Before your appeal hearing, go over your
function report (you can ask the SSA for a copy if you don't have it),
and imagine how a judge would view your answers. Function reports can
result in denials if there are inconsistencies. If you feel you wrote
something in your function report that could hurt your case, you should discuss your case with a disability attorney to see how you can clarify this information at your hearing in a way that is both honest and helpful to your case.