Can the Opinions of Friends and Family Help in a Social Security Disability Case?
Social Security Law Specifically Allows Lay Witness Testimony
Social Security has both Regulations and Rulings that allow lay witness evidence, i.e. evidence from people other than doctors or vocational experts. Social Security Ruling (SSR) 06-3p, clearly states that a layperson is an “other source” which must be considered. In legal terms, information from lay witnesses has “probative value.” However, it is very common that Social Security and the Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) that hear Social Security Disability claims frequently ignore lay witness evidence.
Lay Witnesses are Acceptable “Other Sources”
In addition to evidence from Medical Doctors, Osteopathic Doctors, and psychologists (the types of doctors that Social Security calls “acceptable medical sources”), Social Security’s Regulation 20 CFR 404.1513(d) specifically states that a claimant can show the severity of their impairment(s) and how their impairment(s) affect their ability to function with evidence from “other sources,” including:
- Medical sources who are not “acceptable medical sources,” such as nurse practitioners, physician assistants, licensed clinical social workers, naturopaths, chiropractors, audiologists, and therapists; and
- “Non-medical Sources” including, but not limited to:
- Educational personnel, such as school teachers, counselors, early intervention team members, developmental center workers, and daycare center workers;
- Public and private social welfare agency personnel, rehabilitation counselors; and
- Spouses, parents and other caregivers, siblings, other relatives, friends, neighbors, clergy, and employers.
You still need an “acceptable medical source” to show that a medical impairment exists, but these other sources can show how bad the problem impacts you. They often have special knowledge or a better vantage point than medical professionals to describe the affect of your impairment(s).
Live Testimony is Not Needed – Use Witness Statements
SSR 16-3p provides that statements from lay people are “other evidence” that Social Security must consider. It explains:
If we cannot make a disability determination or decision that is fully favorable based solely on objective medical evidence, then we carefully consider other evidence in the record in reaching a conclusion about the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of an individual’s symptoms. Other evidence that we will consider includes statements from the individual, medical sources, and any other sources that might have information about the individual’s symptoms, including agency personnel, as well as the factors set forth in our regulations. For example, for a child with a title XVI disability claim, we will consider evidence submitted from educational agencies and personnel, statements from parents and other relatives, and evidence submitted by social welfare agencies, therapists, and other practitioners.
This evidence does not need to be live testimony. You may submit a written statement from anyone that can describe how your conditions affect you.
Direct Observations – Not Opinions – Work Best from Lay Witensses
When you submit statements from lay witnesses, keep them to what the person has actually seen with their own eyes or heard with their own ears. You do not want them to get into opinions, because that makes it easy for SSA or the ALJ to discount their statement. Have them stick to what they have seen or heard.
Having a friend, neighbor or co-worker discuss what they have seen you do can be excellent evidence for your case. If someone can write down what they have seen you unsuccessfully attempt to perform certain tasks, or that you have asked for assistance, that can be very powerful. Other things like observing you grimace in pain, take a longer break, stop doing things or leaving early, are important to your case, and they are not opinions. Have the person put it in a sworn affidavit or write that their statement is done under penalty of perjury, and your witness’ statement is now sworn testimony.
TAKEAWAY: You Need to Use Lay Witness Statements in Your Social Security Disability Claim
If you have not gotten witness statements from your family, friends, clergy, former co-workers, neighbors and others, you are are missing a great opportunity to prove your case. Have these people write down examples of what they have seen and heard that would help someone understand why you cannot work a regular job.
If you need a Tampa Bay Social Security Attorney, call our experienced SSD attorneys at (727) 572-5000 or (813) 594-5000.