Many disability applicants know that they have to gather medical records and detail their activities of daily living in order to help win their disability case. But few applicants take the extra step of asking caregivers, relatives, or employers to write a disability letter—also called a third-party witness statement—even though it can give Social Security important insight into potentially disabling conditions.
Witness statements can be helpful to your disability application if you ask the right people and if the letter contains the kind of information that the Social Security Administration (SSA) cares about.
The SSA wants to know about any struggles you have with your activities of daily living, because it makes sense that something you have trouble doing at home would be as difficult, if not more so, to do at work. While you have the opportunity to discuss your activities in detail in the questionnaire included with your application, having confirmation of your limitations from people who have first-hand knowledge of your condition can be a powerful tool to help win your case.
Anybody that you've known closely for a long time (say, several years) is a good candidate to ask for a personal statement disability letter. Examples of potentially persuasive witnesses include:
Spouses seem like a natural choice to ask for a disability recommendation, but they aren't always the most objective observers, and the SSA might discount their testimony because they have a financial stake in the outcome of your case. If your spouse wants to write a disability letter, make sure they stick to specific examples of how your condition limits you, such as causing a change in who performs household chores or pays the bills.
Personal witness statements should include concrete examples of your impairment that the witness has seen directly. Statements where the person just repeats what you've told them and doesn't add any new information aren't very helpful.
For example, a caregiver who helps you organize your medication every week because you can't remember which pills to take could write a useful letter about how your forgetfulness affects your ability to complete basic tasks.
Disability letters should also include basic identifying information that lets the SSA know the person's relationship to you. The witness should mention how long they've known you for, how frequently they see you, and in what capacity (such as employer, relative, or caregiver).
Here are some examples of disability letters from caregivers, relatives, and employers that illustrate when a witness statement can help an application for Social Security benefits.
Caregivers are often very good sources for letters of recommendation. They can be paid professionals, like in-home care nurses, or unpaid relatives who help you out with various tasks. Below is a caregiver sample letter for a disability applicant with rheumatoid arthritis.
Note that the letter makes specific reference to tasks that somebody with arthritis could be expected to struggle with, and are based on the caregiver's direct observations.
Many disability applicants get extra help from their relatives or spouses, who've often known the applicant before their health deteriorated and can compare their previous capabilities with their current functioning. Below is a sample letter that a relative or spouse might submit for a relative with fibromyalgia.
The above letter can be persuasive to Social Security because it shows how the applicant's activities have changed as a result of their medical condition. For more information, see our article on when letters from friends and family can help your disability case at a hearing.
Letters from your former manager, supervisor, or boss can be particularly helpful in a disability case. While you might feel awkward asking your old employer for a disability recommendation, if they can vouch that your medical condition made it hard for you to work, Social Security can take that as a sign that you can't do that type of job (and may even rule out all work.)
Below is a former employer sample letter for a disability applicant with bipolar disorder.
Once again, in the above letter, the manager makes reference to specific incidents and personal observations about his employee's performance. Social Security will likely find this letter to be compelling evidence that the applicant's bipolar disorder prevents him from working due to his unpredictability and poor attendance.
If you're having trouble deciding which caregiver, relative, or employer you want to write a personal statement witness letter, consider hiring an experienced disability attorney or advocate. Your lawyer can help you determine which witnesses are more likely to write favorable letters that can increase your chances of getting benefits.
You can get a free case consultation with a disability law firm here.
Updated March 16, 2023
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