One of the ways the Social Security Administration (SSA, or "Social Security") will evaluate your claim for disability is to look at how your medical condition affects your day-to-day life. After you submit your application for disability, Social Security will mail you a form that asks you to describe your activities of daily living (ADLs). ADLs are the 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.
Officially, Social Security calls this form the Adult Function Report, SSA-3373, though sometimes Social Security reps refer to the form as the ADL questionnaire.
Whether you submitted your application for Social Security Disability benefits online or if you completed your application over the phone, a claims examiner at Disability Determination Services (DDS) will mail you a blank Function Report. Typically, DDS requests that this form be completed and returned within 10 days. However, some claimants (the people requesting disability benefits) actually receive the form after the 10-day "deadline" has already expired. DDS will still accept forms after the deadline, but it's best to complete the form as soon as possible to prevent delays in processing your application.
Keeping your Function Report up to date is also important. It's not unusual for your ability to perform ADLs to change as your medical condition progresses. If your condition changes significantly and you have more trouble doing daily activities, you should submit a new Function Report to the SSA.
Many 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. Social Security staff, including the administrative law judges (ALJs) who hear these cases, use the answers on the Function Report to determine how well you can perform day-to-day tasks 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 receive their benefits:
Social Security 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, and 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:
For more information, see our article on the importance of credibility to a disability case.
When you're completing the Function Report, try to think about how you're able to complete activities—the same as before your medical conditions started? Slower than before? Not at all? Can you complete the task, but you've had to change how you do it? Social Security needs to know those types of details, but oftentimes, you've become so accustomed to these small changes over time that you don't always remember to explain how things are different for you now.
Here are some example answers to some of the questions on the Disability Function Report, which might help give you a better idea of how to complete it.
This question can be a good opportunity for you to mention if you need help with things. For example: "No, I don't take care of anyone. Actually, I get help from my children, who cook and clean for me because cooking and cleaning causes sharp, stabbing pain across my low back."
Never just say "yes," without providing an explanation. Think of "yes" as "yes, but..."
Always provide detail. If you just check the box that says "yes," but you don't explain, Social Security will assume you can cook every day without limitations.
Don't answer this question by just saying "everything" or "work." While they may be honest answers, they are very vague and don't provide any extra information to the person trying to make a decision on your application.
Take each question seriously. Even if it's something embarrassing or something you don't think is that limiting, it's important to answer every question. Think of every blank line as your chance to give Social Security a specific example of how your medical conditions limit your ability to do certain activities.
Don't just admit you can do tasks. If it is something you can do, but you have to do it differently than you used to, explain how and why.
Social Security will evaluate your ability to work based on how long you're able to do certain activities, so it's important to tell them what that limit is. When you say "I can't sit for very long," everyone has a different idea of what "very long" is. Instead, say "I can't sit longer than 10 minutes before I get numbness in my toes."
When you go to your hearing, you can try to clarify your answers on the Function Report by providing more detail. For instance, if you checked the boxes on the Function Report that you could drive a car, walk, or use public transportation, but you actually have difficulty doing these things, explain the details to the judge. Here's an example of how a claimant provide more detail during a hearing:
If you've already completed your Function Report and think you wrote something that might look inconsistent, you should discuss your case with a disability attorney to see how you can clarify this information in a way that is both honest and helpful to your case.
As you're completing the Function Report, it may be helpful to imagine how an ALJ would view your answers (read our article about a disability case and how the judge assessed the claimant's credibility regarding ADLs). Function Reports can result in denials if there are inconsistencies.
After you submit your application, DDS may also ask you to complete other paper forms, such as:
It's important to complete all the forms that DDS sends to you because, if you don't return the completed forms, DDS can use that as a basis to deny your claim.
It's generally a good idea to keep copies of the forms you've returned to DDS because sometimes the completed forms get misplaced. So DDS often asks claimants to re-do the forms they've already submitted.
Juggling the paperwork can be stressful for claimants, so some claimants choose to work with a disability advocate or attorney to manage the paperwork for them. The advocate or attorney can communicate with DDS to make sure DDS has all of the information they need to make a decision about a claimant's application. For more information, see our article about filing Social Security forms.
Updated February 25. 2022