During an application for Social Security Disability benefits, family and friends can lend a helping hand by providing supporting evidence at various stages. The first is completing a Function Report – Adult – Third Party. This is a form sent by Social Security asking that someone other than the claimant but familiar with them to describe the claimant’s disability, daily life activities and provide any other supporting information.
The second opportunity for friends and family to provide supporting information is at hearing. While parading a string of friends and family through a hearing, select individuals may be helpful. For instance, if the disabled individual lives with his or her parents or spouse, one of those individuals may be able to provide useful testimony regarding the claimant’s ability to care for themselves, ability to cook or clean, to take their medications and other daily life activities, particularly if that parent or spouse is at home with the claimant regularly. A family member who is familiar with the disabled person and runs their own business may be appropriate to testify about the claimant’s ability to work and how, as an employer, that family member would feel about having the claimant at work in their business. Close friends may also provide testimony by testifying about the claimant’s reliability to make plans or significant changes in their social activities.
The Ninth Circuit recently chastised an ALJ for failing to consider testimony from family members, alleging a bias due to the familial relationship. The Court reminded the ALJ that the requirement to exclude this type of testimony is a finding, based on evidence, that the testimony is exaggerated in the interest of bias or gain. Testimony of this nature can also be key to the formulation of hypothetical questions posed to the Vocational Expert and provide additional evidence of reduced ability to work. Claimants should discuss with their attorney or representative potential witnesses and whether those witnesses are necessary.