Can Letters From Friends and Family Help My Disability Case at a Hearing?

Having a well-written letter from a close friend or family member can help convince the judge you are disabled.

By , Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

Applicants for Social Security disability benefits will often ask a friend or family member to write a letter explaining why the applicant can't work. These supportive letters become part of the official record. Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) can then review the letters and ask you questions about them at a disability hearing.

Admittedly, ALJs don't always put a lot of weight into letters from your friends and family—they're typically more interested in what you and your doctors have to say. But sometimes, well-crafted letters can help the judge better understand what your limitations are and why you're unable to work.

Who Should I Ask to Write a Disability Letter?

You should ask only a friend or family member who is familiar with how your limitations affect your activities of daily living or work-related activities. For example, if you have a neighbor who regularly assists you with tasks like grocery shopping, taking out the trash, or cleaning the house, having them write a letter can provide insight into your restrictions.

Ideally, you'll have a close friend or family member who has known you for a long time and can shed light on how your life has changed as a result of your disabling condition. Church groups, sports clubs, or social organizations that you were previously active in are good places to start if you're having trouble coming up with somebody who could write you a support letter.

Many people are tempted to ask their spouse or partner who they live with to write a support letter, but judges don't always consider them to be the most objective sources of information. Try to ask somebody who is living independently from you, but spends part of their time helping you out.

How Do My Friends and Family Write a Support Letter?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides a form called the Third-Party Function Report that you give to the person who you've asked to write a letter. The form asks specific questions about activities of daily living, but doesn't provide a lot of space to answer. Section E of this form ("Remarks") allows you to attach a support letter from your friend or family member.

Tips for Writing a Support Letter

Here are four tips on how to write a helpful support letter:

  • The letter should be brief. ALJs have a heavy caseload and don't have much time to sift through long letters looking for relevant information. Judges value quality over quantity.
  • The letter should contain only information that the person writing your support letter has personally witnessed. For example, if you have a cousin who comes by to help you make meals, wash the dishes, and unload the laundry, your cousin's letter should address how frequently they need to stop by and what they've seen you struggle to do.
  • The letter should be specific. Disability judges love numbers, so the letter should contain references to distances and weights (if possible). If your friend or a family member has to get your mail because you can't walk to the mailbox, the letter should mention how far away the mailbox is using terms like "50 feet" or "5 minutes."
  • The letter should avoid broad speculation about your mental state or your pain level. Your mental state and pain level are subjective factors that the ALJ will be asking you about at the hearing. (You'll also avoid complicating your case with a letter stating you "look fine" or "don't seem depressed.") But if the letter writer has been with you while you've had a panic attack, for example, the letter can address the circumstances surrounding the attack.

Sample Support Letter From a Friend

Here's an example of a letter from a friend that keeps the above tips in mind:

Do I Need to Have the Support Letter Notarized?

Getting the support letter notarized is optional, but it doesn't hurt. Social Security hearings are informal administrative processes, meaning they are more relaxed on rules like having affidavits notarized. Submitting the support letter, along with contact information for your friend or family member, should be enough for the ALJ.

If you'd like to get the letter notarized, ask the writer to bring it along with a government-issued photo ID to a notary public. The writer should not sign the letter until they are in the presence of the notary.

What Other Support Letters Should I Submit?

Probably the best way to increase your chances of a successful disability hearing is to obtain a favorable medical source statement from your doctor, therapist, or counselor. Judges value the opinions of medical providers who've treated you for a long time and have special insight into your limitations.

Doctors' letters. The best medical source statements are ones written by providers who treat you in their area of expertise and that point to the diagnostic criteria they used to arrive at their opinion. Ask your doctors to refer to examples from your progress notes when writing their support letter. Make sure that their opinions are about your limitations—such as how long you can concentrate for, or how much weight you can lift—and not just a statement that you're disabled.

Employers' letters. Depending on the terms of how you left your last job, you might want to ask your previous supervisor, manager, or human resources (HR) representative to write an employer letter. If you were let go because your disabling condition made it difficult to perform the job duties, the ALJ might see that as convincing evidence that no jobs exist that you can do.

For more information, see our article about writing and submitting disability support letters.

Updated July 27, 2022

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