How to prepare for a disability interview and what to bring

Preparing for your disability interview

If you have made the decision to file for Social Security Disability benefits and you have an appointment to apply with SSA (Social Security Administration), that brings you to an important pair of questions: What should you do to prepare for your disability interview and what should you bring?

Get your medical treatment history ready

You should be prepared to give the Social Security claims representative (the CR is the person at the social security office who will do the intake for your claim and then, afterwards, send the claim to a disability examiner so that a decision can be made) information about your medical treatment sources, including all the hospitals, clinics, and doctor's offices where you have been seen.

The claims representative will need the names of all your treating physicians (defined as a physician who has a history of providing you treatment and is therefore qualified to comment on your condition), and will also need the full names and addresses--and phone numbers if possible--of every source of treatment you have gone to. Social Security will also need your dates of treatment, a list of your current medications, and a list of all testing, if any, you have undergone.

The information you provide will be used by a disability examiner at DDS. The examiner receives the claim after the disability application has been started and then does all the case development that is necessary in order to determine if you qualify for disability benefits under the rules and guidelines of the SSD and SSI disability programs.

The examiner will rely heavily on the accuracy of your information to send out requests for MER, or medical evidence of record. In other words, your medical records.

When supplying your medical treatment history, you should be sure to provide all current sources since Social Security cannot approve ongoing disability benefits without current medical record documentation (meaning you must have at least some documentation in your file that is not older than 90 days).

Recent treatment sources and older sources

You should be sure to include all the medical sources that treated you at the time you first became disabled. This will be important from the standpoint of proving your disability onset date.

Establishing the earliest possible onset date will allow Social Security to give you the highest amount possible in disability back pay. It may also eliminate a medicare waiting period if the claim you have filed is for title 2 Social Security Disability benefits, versus title 16 SSI (which does not come with medicare coverage, but, rather, with medicaid benefits).

Tip: Since the information contained in the medical records will provide the core basis for any decision made on your case, it is advisable that you write this information down prior to your disability interview so you will be in a position to provide information that is detailed and complete and so that you will avoid leaving out important pieces of information.

Supplying your Work History Information

Additionally, you will need to inform Social Security about the types of work that you performed in the fifteen years prior to your disability. Why 15 years? This period is known as "the relevant period" and it is considered relevant because SSA assumes that work that you performed longer than 15 years ago may not utilized skills that are applicable, or transferrable, to present day jobs

You may wonder what work has to do with Social Security Disability, other than the fact that you must not be able to work at a substantial and gainful activity level in order to meet the requirements for disability.

Social Security Disability examiners must evaluate all of your past work and your potential to do other kinds of work considering your functional limitations, age, education and the transferability of your work skills.

Social Security uses a five step sequential evaluation process in which step four and five are evaluations of a) your ability to do your past work and b) your ability to perform any other kinds of work.

If the Social Security Disability examiner determines you are able to perform any of your past work or other kinds of work, you will be denied disability benefits.

Again, as with the medical history, it would be prudent to spend some time writing down your work history information in advance of the disability interview as opposed to "having to come up with the information on the spot". While many claimants will have no trouble recalling all their various jobs or dates of employment, during a live interview they may feel rushed and avoid supplying detailed descriptions of their past work.

Yet this is exactly what Social Security needs in order to properly classify a person's past work and properly assess their level of work skills. It can literally make the difference between being approved for disability or denied for disability.

Marriages, Children, and Military Service

In addition to all of the medical and work information, Social Security will need information about your marriages, children, income, resources, and military service dates to process non-medical requirement issues that are involved in the disability claims process.

You should be prepared to provide Social Security at the time of your disability interview with the name of your spouse, the date you were married, and the date of your divorce if applicable.

With regard to marriages and divorces, it is helpful if you bring in marriage certificates and divorce decrees for your marriages. They ask for this information to evaluate your potential entitlement to other benefits such as spousal or widow/er benefits.

You should also be prepared to at least provide the names and dates of birth for all of your minor-age children, as well as adult disabled children if this applies. Why is this important? Children sometimes are able to receive some benefits on your record if they are minors (under age 19), or if they are adult disabled children (children who were disabled prior to the age of 22).

If you have military service, you should be able to give your dates of service, your branch of service, and your rank at your discharge. It is most helpful if you can provide your DD214 discharge paper. There are times that military service increases the amount of Social Security Disability that you can be paid.

Income and Resource (assets) Information

Income and resource (assets) information is needed primarily if you are filing for Supplemental Security Income disability a.k.a. SSI disability. Having said that, SSD, or Social Security Disability, needs information about Workers Compensation and public disability program benefits you may have received because workman's compensation and public disability program benefits may offset Social Security Disability benefits.

You should bring in any paperwork you have that involves any of these programs when you come to the Social Security office for your disability interview. If you do not have paperwork, you should be able to provide verbal information about your workers compensation or public disability benefits.

SSI Disability requires the claims representative, or CR, to evaluate your income and resources because they are factors of eligibility for this needs based disability program. Resources evaluated during a SSI eligibility determination might include: vehicles, stocks, bonds, antiques, 401ks, bank accounts, land, and homes.

SSI allows the exclusion of one vehicle and the home and land you live on. However, any other vehicles, homes, or land will be counted against the resource limit. At this time, the resource limit for an individual is $2000 and it is $3000 for a couple. The resource limit could change any time Social Security determines that a change is needed.

Income evaluated during a SSI eligibility interview might include: Pensions, VA benefits, Workman's compensation benefits, wages, money given by friends, family members, churches, child support, etc. The evaluation for income is not quite as clear-cut as the resource evaluation because family composition is taken into account.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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