How a “Disability Statement” Can Help You Get Social Security Benefits

Submitting a Disability Statement increases your chances of having Social Security understand why you can’t work.

Reviewed by , Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits is an impersonal process at first. During the first two levels of review (the initial application and reconsideration), you fill out Social Security forms and wait. You don't speak with the people who decide if you're disabled. At the third appeal level, the Social Security hearing, you finally get a chance to speak directly with a judge about why you can't work. But it takes a year or more to get a hearing scheduled.

Some Social Security forms ask about your medical problems, but they allow little room for explanation. For example, the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires you to complete a "Function Report" (SSA-3373) at the application level. The function report asks you about your day-to-day limitations. But only the last section of this report, Section E, allows you about a paragraph or so to explain why you're disabled. You usually need more than a paragraph to describe the limitations that your medical condition causes.

An optional, little-known Social Security form, SSA-795 ("Statement of Claimant or Other Person"), allows you plenty of additional space to explain why you can't work, in your own words—potentially increasing your chances of approval. This article explains how to complete your "Disability Statement" using this form.

What Is a Disability Statement?

A Disability Statement is a description of your limitations that you put on Form SSA-795. The form allows you a full page to explain why you can't work. Most people who apply for Social Security benefits are unaware of it, so they miss out on the chance to explain how their disability limits their personal and work activities. Submitting a "Disability Statement" about why you can't work could improve your chance of approval for SSDI or SSI benefits.

You can submit an SSA-795 at any time while your Social Security benefits claim is pending. If possible, though, submit this statement at the same time that you file your initial application.

Tips for Getting Your Disability Statement Started

Here are some technical pointers for you or someone helping you to complete your Disability Statement:

  • Download Form SSA-795 from the website. Plan to type directly into this form on a computer. Typing ensures SSA can read what you write.
  • Type out drafts of your statement beforehand. Cut and paste the final version into the form. The statement section allows about 4,200 characters—about one typewritten page.
  • If someone else helps you complete this form, this person should add his or her name and related information to the form.
  • Print out the completed form and sign it in blue or black ink. Keep a copy of the form.
  • Note that witness signatures are only needed if the claimant (the person asking for benefits) can only sign an "X".
  • Mail or bring the completed and signed form to your local SSA office. You can find your local SSA office here.

Tips for Writing your Disability Statement

There is no formula for what you should write in your Disability Statement. You should explain how your medical issues limit your day-to-day. Ask yourself, "What would someone need to know about my inability to work?"

An effective statement will answer some of the questions below:

  • Which medical problems limit you the most? If you were to rank your disabilities based on the ones that limit you most, how would you rank them? Don't include every additional medical condition if they don't seriously affect your ability to work.
  • What was your life like before and after you were unable to work? Was there a time when your disability caused you to either leave your job or significantly change your day-to-day life? What were you able to do before that you can no longer do?
  • Do you have good and bad days? Do you have bad days where you can barely function? How are they different from good (or better) days? How often do you have bad days weekly or monthly?
  • What kind of medical treatment do you have planned in the future? What do doctors tell you about your future health? For example, have you seen a surgeon who says an operation wouldn't help your condition? Has your doctor told you to expect your condition to get worse?
  • What are a few examples of how your health has changed your life? Describe a situation when your health recently caused a significant problem.
  • Have any major life events caused you to be unable to work? How have these events affected your current health? Can you live the life you want?

Use your answers to these questions above to craft a paragraph explaining why you can't work.

How Do I Start the Disability Statement?

See what a sample of the SSA-795 form looks like.You can start your statement any way you wish. You could begin with something like this:

You could also start by describing an accident, a traumatic event, or a new diagnosis that changed your life:

Click the sample SSA-795 form above to read what a Disability Statement might look like for an applicant with physical and emotional conditions.

How Do I Know When My Disability Statement Is Ready to Print?

Your Disability Statement doesn't need to be perfect, just to the point. Remember, it is optional. Plan to read through your statement a few times, correcting errors and simplifying it along the way.

When you're ready, have a trusted friend or family member read it. Ask them, "Is it clear?" and "Would it help a stranger understand my health problems?" If the answers are yes, then you're probably ready to submit your Disability Statement. If you have an attorney helping you with your Social Security benefits claim, ask your attorney for feedback as well.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Keep it real. A good Disability Statement uses your own words. Your medical records will contain medical terminology, but you don't have to. Use words that describe how your symptoms feel to you. For example, you could describe how your pain "feels like a hot knife" or how your nausea "makes me feel like I am spinning on a swing."
  • Also, focus on why you cannot work. Avoid explaining why you need Social Security benefits or who you believe shouldn't get benefits. Concentrate on the things you can no longer do.

Adding a Disability Statement on Form SSA-795 during your Social Security benefits claim is a wise decision. When done well, you increase your chances of having Social Security understand why you can't work and approving your application for benefits.

Published July 15, 2022

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