How to Write a Supporting Letter for a Family Member, Friend, or Employee's Disability Claim

Here are some sample witness letters for friends, relatives, and former employers to support a disability claim.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

As part of an application for Social Security disability benefits, it's a good strategy to include a letter from somebody who's familiar with the applicant's struggles. This could be a relative or friend who's acted as a caregiver for the applicant, or even a past employer with first-hand knowledge of how the applicant's health affected their job performance.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) can use letters from non-medical sources as evidence of how severe a medical condition is and how it prevents the disability applicant from working. These "third-party" letters are especially helpful in cases where there aren't many medical records.

Who Should Write a Disability Letter?

Any person who has closely observed the person applying for disability benefits (the "claimant") can write a letter supporting a disability claim. Ideally, the letter writer (the "witness") will have known the claimant for a long period of time and seen them frequently. Spouses, friends, family members, close neighbors, or past employers can all be possible witnesses.

Disability letters from doctors are called "medical source statements" and are treated differently than letters from friends or family members. To learn more about medical source statements, see our article on how to get a disability letter from your doctor.

What Should the Disability Letter Include?

First, the letter should provide some context describing the relationship between the witness and the claimant. For example, a short paragraph could state how long the witness has known the claimant, the nature of their relationship, and how often the witness sees the claimant in a given week.

Then, the letter should address activities that the witness has personally observed the claimant having difficulty with. The specifics of these activities will necessarily vary from person to person, but common examples include:

  • household chores that the claimant can't do as quickly or thoroughly as they used to
  • the amount of weight that the claimant can lift and carry since their condition began
  • how well the claimant can use their hands to open jars, twist keys, or type messages
  • whether the claimant can sit down comfortably without shifting in pain
  • how far the claimant is able to stand or walk without using a cane
  • if the claimant is able to drive independently and go grocery shopping without assistance
  • whether the claimant has trouble remembering names or following conversations
  • how the claimant's social interactions have changed since their condition began, and
  • whether the disability appears to be getting better or worse.

Witnesses should take care to discuss only limitations that they've seen first-hand and avoid including any information they heard from somebody else—even if it makes sense given what the witness has personally observed about the claimant. For example, the letter shouldn't say that the claimant's doctor limited them from lifting more than 10 pounds. But if the witness sees the claimant struggle to carry a gallon of milk, that should be included in the disability letter.

Sample Disability Letters

Below are some examples of how a friend, family member, or employer might write a helpful disability letter.

Example of a Disability Letter from a Friend or Family Member

Here's a sample letter written about Nancy, a claimant who applied for disability for depression, from her sister, Patricia.

Note that in this letter, Patricia discusses specific incidents she witnessed where Nancy's symptoms of depression limited her activities. Nancy (or her attorney) can use the information in the witness letter to argue that Nancy wouldn't be able to work around other people or that she'd miss too many days to be employable full-time.

Example of a Disability Letter from an Employer

Here's a sample letter written about John, a claimant who has applied for disability for back pain and migraines, from his former employer, Bruce.

In this letter, John's former boss described specific times during John's employment where he couldn't perform the duties of his job. John (or his representative) can point to this witness letter to establish that John can't return to his past job or that he'd be unable to do even unskilled work.

Sending a Witness Letter

Social Security has a special form (SSA-795, Statement of Claimant or Other Person) that witnesses can use to help write their disability letter. This form isn't mandatory, and witnesses may submit their disability letter on plain paper.

Witnesses can send their completed disability letters directly to the SSA—specifically, their local Social Security field office. The disability letter should contain the claimant's name and Social Security number, if possible. This makes it harder for the disability letter to get misplaced or assigned to the wrong claimant.

What Happens Next?

Once witnesses submit their disability letters, the SSA will make the letter part of the claimant's official exhibit list. A claims examiner or administrative law judge will review the letter as part of their disability determination process. Judges may reference the witness letter in their written decision if they approve the disability claim.

Witnesses aren't typically contacted by the SSA after they've submitted a disability letter. They'll have to rely on information from the claimant about how the disability application turned out. If the claimant receives a denial and wishes to appeal, they can submit additional witness letters. It's a good idea to keep the number of witness letters low, however. A few quality letters showcasing different viewpoints will be more powerful than many letters from witnesses who are all saying the same thing.

For more information about disability appeals, see our topic page on appealing a disability denial. And for more information about what happens when a disability claim is successful, see our topic page on approval of disability benefits.

Updated March 27, 2024

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