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Your Guide to the Disability Interview

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
September 5, 2023  ·  7 min read
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For some disability applicants, the application process includes a phone interview with the Social Security Administration (SSA). This is especially common for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applicants because eligibility requires certain income and asset limits.

After submitting your disability application, the SSA might contact you to schedule an interview about your case. The SSA claims representative might ask questions about your application, review your medical and work history, and discuss your eligibility and benefits.

Not everyone has to do a phone interview, but if you get an interview request, know that it’s a normal part of the process.


What is a Social Security disability interview?

A disability interview is a phone call where an SSA claims representative asks an SSDI or SSI disability applicant questions about their medical history, work history, and finances. Typically, a disability interview happens over the phone after you submit your disability application and lasts an hour or more.

The interview is simply a chance for an SSA claims representative to get more information and ensure the details on your application are accurate. Before a disability interview, it can be helpful to gather your medical records, employment history from the past 15 years, and financial statements.

Disability interview vs. hearing

It’s important to remember that a disability interview is different from a disability hearing. A disability interview occurs after the initial application and a disability hearing happens after you appeal a rejection.

If the SSA denies your application, you can appeal the decision and request a hearing. A hearing takes place in front of a judge and happens later in the process after your application has been rejected.

Learn what to expect at a Social Security hearing and how to prepare.


Who needs to do a disability interview?

The SSA might interview SSI and SSDI benefits applicants, but a call is especially common if you’re applying for SSI. Determining what counts as income for SSI can get complicated, so the SSA uses a phone call to make sure it understands your current income and assets. If you do receive an interview request, don’t panic! Disability interviews are common.

They are not a sign you’ll be rejected — they’re simply part of the process. Think of the interview as an extension of your application.

If you apply for benefits in person, the interview might be face-to-face with an SSA claims representative, but typically, these interviews happen over the phone.

A lawyer can help you prepare for a disability interview.

How long is the SSDI or SSI disability phone interview?

You should expect an SSDI or SSI disability interview to take about an hour, but the length varies from person to person and your call could take longer. The call may also be shorter if you prepare for the questions ahead of time.


How to prepare for a disability interview?

Before the interview, collect all of your documents about your medical history, employment history, and income sources. You’ll refer to all of these documents to answer questions during the interview.

It’s also helpful to familiarize yourself with the information ahead of the interview.

Medical history 

The SSA claims representative could ask questions about your medical history, so have copies of your medical records — tests you’ve done, lab work results, doctor’s notes, etc. It’s also helpful to have a list of medications and any side effects you experience.

Treatment logs and appointment logs are also good to have handy. The more recent your medical documents are, the better. 

Work history

For the disability interview, it can be helpful to have a copy of your Work History Report (Form SSA-3369) detailing your employment history for the past 15 years. The SSA claims representative might ask you about previous jobs, work responsibilities, and employment dates.

Income

You should have all your W-2 forms, 1099 forms, and other income forms available. In addition, the SSA claims agent might ask you about vacation pay and sick pay, which count as wages. If you’re applying for SSI, also be prepared to explain how much you pay for rent and whether anyone helps you pay for rent, food, or utilities. 

The SSA will also ask about other types of benefits you receive, such as VA disability, state disability benefits, unemployment insurance, and workers’ comp benefits. If you’re married, your spouse’s income also affects your application, so have their monthly and annual income ready. For minors, parental income is also important to know.


Disability interview questions

The disability interview questions for SSDI and SSI applicants cover topics such as your demographics, medical history, and work history. SSI applicants will also need to answer questions about their income and assets.

These questions help the SSA get a better idea of your assets so they can determine your eligibility.

Identity questions for the disability interview

At the beginning of the interview, the SSA claims representative will ask basic identity questions. These might include:

  • What is your name?

  • What is your Social Security number?

  • Have you ever used any other names or Social Security numbers?

  • What gender were you assigned at birth?

  • When and where were you born?

  • Are you a United States citizen or an alien?

  • What is your marital status?

  • Do you have children?

Medical history questions for the disability interview

Next, the SSA claims representative will ask about your medical history. Respond with concise, clear answers that align with the information on your application. Here are some examples of medical history questions:

  • At what point did your medical condition make you unable to work?

  • Are you still unable to work?

  • What doctor(s) treat you for this condition?

  • How often do you see your doctors?

  • What kind of treatment and medications do you receive?

  • When did you start seeking treatment?

  • What testing have you done?

  • Have you had any hospital admissions or ER visits?

Work history questions for the disability interview

The next batch of questions will focus on your work history. Prepare to talk about your work history over the past 15 years and your workplace responsibilities.

The SSA will likely ask for the contact information of both your doctor(s) and your former employer(s), so be sure to have that information available.

Questions for SSI applicants

If you are an SSI applicant, an SSA claims representative will ask additional questions about your current income and assets since they affect your eligibility. Questions might include:

  • What is your current living situation?

  • Who do you live with?

  • Do you own more than one home or property?

  • Do you own more than one vehicle?

  • What are your sources of income?

  • What are your spouse’s sources of income?

  • Do you receive any benefits, such as retirement, VA, or workers’ compensation benefits?

  • What is the balance of your bank accounts?

These questions help the SSA determine your technical eligibility. For more information about the income and asset limits for SSI, check out our guide to how SSI is calculated.


What not to say in a disability interview

To help your case as much as possible, there are a few things you shouldn’t say or imply during your disability interview.

  • Never lie about your pain or other symptoms. It is important to describe how your condition affects your daily life. If an SSA claims representative suspects you are exaggerating your symptoms, it will affect your credibility.

  • Don’t talk about only your best days. It’s unhelpful to tell the SSA you’re “usually fine” or that you’ve been “doing better.” In the disability interview, describe how you feel on your bad days, not your good days. This will show the SSA how your condition makes you unable to work.

  • Avoid talking about unrelated illnesses. During your phone interview, you should only talk about the diagnosed conditions listed on your application. Talking about unrelated medical issues can distract and confuse the SSA claims representative.

Further reading: 4 Things Not to Say in a Disability Interview


What happens after the phone interview?

After the Social Security disability interview, the SSA will review your technical eligibility and the DDS will review your medical eligibility.

The average time to hear back on a decision is 6.1 months. Your case could take longer or be faster, depending on your location and other factors.

If the SSA approves your disability application, you’ll start getting checks in the mail — including back pay. Back pay covers the disability benefits you’re entitled to but haven’t yet received.

If the SSA denies your application, you can and should appeal this decision. If your appeal is denied, too, then your case will move to a disability hearing in front of a judge.

Learn more about the disability application process.


Get help with your disability interview

Medical professionals and lawyers can help support the disability application process, including the disability interview. The best thing you can do to help build your case is to regularly see your doctor.

Talk honestly about your condition and work to find treatment options. Medical records help make a strong case to the SSA.

Working with a disability lawyer is another advantage. This is especially helpful if you’ve already applied for disability and been denied in the past.

A lawyer can help you gather information and prepare for every stage of the process, including a possible disability interview. Atticus matches disability applicants with qualified, vetted disability attorneys.

Get started by taking our 2-minute Social Security quiz to get help and create a plan to get you the benefits you need. Atticus can match you with a representative for free — you won’t pay the lawyer anything until after you win benefits.

Team up with a lawyer for success.

Frequently asked questions about applying for disability

Where do I apply for disability benefits?

You can apply for Social Security disability benefits online through the SSA website. You can also apply in-person by visiting your local SSA office. Get step-by-step help in our breakdown of the disability application process.

What forms do I need to fill out to apply for disability?

Start with the main disability benefits application form (SSA-16). You’ll need to fill out additional forms, including a work history report on your previous work experience and a function report on how your condition impacts your life. The SSA will also ask for medical records and other relevant personal information.

When should I apply for disability benefits?

We recommend applying for benefits as soon as you know you’ll be unable to work. The application process takes a while — a year or longer for the average person. The sooner you submit your application, the sooner you can get your benefits.

What conditions qualify for disability benefits?

Any medical condition that leaves you unable to work can qualify for Social Security disability benefits. You’ll need to give the SSA medical records that clearly show how your condition affects you and why you can’t work because of it. Learn more about conditions that qualify for disability.

Do I need a lawyer to apply for disability?

A lawyer isn’t required and you can win benefits without a lawyer. However, the process is complicated and technical — especially when you get to a court hearing. Working with a good lawyer triples your chances of winning an appeal.

How much do SSDI and SSI pay?

It depends on which benefits you qualify for. SSDI pays up to $3,822 per month and SSI pays up to $943 per month in 2024. Your exact check is based on your income and tax history if you get SSDI, and your other monthly income if you get SSI. Read more about how much you can make on SSDI and SSI.

Related resources:

What Conditions Qualify for Disability?

A hand drawn image of the lead disability lawyer.
By Jackie Jakab

Everything You Should Know About Disability Benefits (SSDI and SSI)

By Sarah Aitchison

See what you qualify for

How long has your condition made it hard to work?

Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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