How to Write a Letter Supporting a Relative or Employee's Disability Claim

Here are some sample disability witness letters for caregivers, friends, and former employers.

By , Attorney

As part of an application for Social Security disability benefits, it's a good strategy for the disability applicant to include a letter from a caregiver or past employer. Social Security regulations provide that the Social Security Administration (SSA) may use evidence from nonmedical sources to show the severity of a medical condition and how it prevents an individual from working.

These third-party letters are especially helpful in cases where there are few medical records. Depending on where you live, case law may also dictate that an administrative law judge (ALJ) must consider these letters and discuss them in any written opinion denying benefits -- or it can be the basis for an appeal.

Who Should Write a Third-Party Letter?

Any person who has closely observed the claimant (the person applying for disability benefits) can write a letter supporting a disability claim. For credibility purposes, the letter writer (called a "witness") should have known the claimant for a long period of time and should have had frequent contact with him or her. Possible witnesses include a spouse, a close relative or friend, an elder at a church, a neighbor, or a current or past employer.

Contents of a Third-Party Letter

The main focus of the letter is to explain why the claimant is unable to take care of him of herself or work.

Following are topics that could be addressed in the letter:

  • How long the witness has known the claimant, his or her relationship to the claimant, and how often he or she sees the claimant in person during a given week.
  • A description of activities the claimant is no longer able to perform or has difficulty performing due to his or her disability (such as housework, lifting items, walking, standing, sitting, using his or her hands, personal hygiene, using a car, or going alone to the grocery store).
  • Whether the claimant has trouble with his or her memory or concentration (such as needing to write items down, not being able to follow conversations, or performing tasks slowly).
  • How the claimant interacts with other people.
  • Whether the claimant needs to take breaks or lie down during the day and for how long.
  • Whether the disability appears to be getting better or worse.

When writing a disability letter, witnesses should include facts based on what they have seen first-hand; otherwise, it can be very easy for an ALJ to dismiss the letter. The witness should not say, for instance, that the claimant's doctor says the applicant shouldn't stand for more than one hour. The witness's letter should only discuss the difficulties that the witness directly sees the applicant having.

Example of a Letter from a Relative/Caregiver

Here is an example of a letter written about Nancy, a claimant who has applied for disability for depression.

Example of a Letter from an Employer

Here is an example of a letter written about John, a claimant who has applied for disability for back pain and migraines.

Sending a Witness Letter

Witnesses can send their third-party letters directly to the Social Security Administration. The letter should reference the claimant's name and Social Security number.

In lieu of a letter, a witness could attend the claimant's Social Security disability hearing and give live testimony to an ALJ, but this isn't always practical, especially in the case of former employers.

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