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