Who Can Help With Disability Benefits Applications?
Can my family and friends help with my Social Security disability claim?
Family and friends can provide evidence about your disability. The Social Security Administration and the courts recognize the importance of statements from non-medical sources, which can include your family and friends, as well as social workers, clergy, former co-workers, rehabilitation counselors and job coaches, teachers, and others. These other sources may help Social Security understand how a medical condition affects a claimant’s ability to work. Statements made by these people about a claimant’s restrictions, daily activities, efforts to work, and other issues, are included in Social Security’s definition of “evidence.”
In some cases, it may be important that a non-medical source, such as a family member or friend, testify at your disability hearing. This is especially true when the facts that the person knows are something about which you (the claimant) are unable to testify. For example, if you have a condition that causes periods of unconsciousness or lack of awareness, only another person can really describe from personal observation all the facts related to these episodes. Or you could have a condition in which your thinking or memory prevents you from being able to successfully explain or remember the facts about your case.
We don’t recommend that that family and friends testify about the same facts that you can testify about yourself. In our experience, judges do not appreciate testimony from multiple witnesses who have nothing new to offer. And additional witnesses can sometimes harm your claim by exaggeration or trying to testify about things that they really have not observed and of which they have no knowledge. There is also a danger that the testimony of such witnesses may have small inconsistencies with our testimony and cause the judge to doubt your truthfulness.
The importance of lay witness testimony in your Social Security disability hearing
The Social Security Administration and the courts recognize the importance of lay witness testimony. The regulations acknowledge that observations by non-medical sources may help the Social Security Administration understand how a medical impairment affects a claimant’s ability to work. Testimony and statements made by lay witnesses about a claimant’s restrictions, daily activities, efforts to work, and other issues, are included in the Social Security Administration’s definition of “evidence.”
Arranging for written statements from family and friends
We believe that use of written statements is often the most effective way to introduce evidence from family and friends.
To be helpful, the statement should be individualized. It should set out the relationship of the writer to the claimant, and the length of time they have known each other. It should indicate how the writer has special knowledge of the claimant, and should relate knowledge and observations in as much detail as possible. A statement such as the following can be effective:
“I am Mary Jones. I live across the street from Mrs. Smith who, I understand, has filed a claim for Social Security disability benefits. I have known Mrs. Smith for seven years; we worked together at the electronics company for five years. I saw her when she fell at the plant and hurt her back.
I go to see her every day. I cook dinner for her and her family at times and twice a week go over and help her into the bathtub, since she can’t get in or out of it by herself. I also take her to the doctor’s office each week, since she takes medicine that makes her too dizzy to drive, according to what she tells me.
She spends most of her time in bed, has quit going to church and it’s been over a month since I’ve seen her walking in her yard. Her main problem is with her back; she wears a back brace all the time.”
Help Available from a Social Security Attorney
Evaluating when testimony or written statements from your family and friends is appropriate and then presenting the evidence is one of the ways in which a knowledgeable Social Security attorney can help a claimant obtain disability benefits. If you are not already represented by an attorney, and you would like our law firm’s evaluation, provide a brief description of your claim using the form to the right. Or you may contact us at: