Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits in Tennessee

If you are Tennessee or Virginia resident facing a debilitating medical condition(s) that has rendered you unable to work, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD) benefits. However, navigating the application process can be complex and time-consuming. On top of that, there is a drastically high rate of denial of these claims in Tennessee (and nearly to the same extent in Virginia), so it is advisable to seek qualified legal assistance.

The key question in applying for SSD benefits is your eligibility. Here are the basic criteria:

  • Age and Social Security status — You must be between the ages of 18 and 67 and not currently receiving regular Social Security retirement benefits. At age 67, SSD benefits automatically convert to regular Social Security benefits.
  • Employment history — You must have worked full-time and paid Social Security payroll taxes for at least five of the 10 years before your application is filed. If you were out of work for more than 60 months before applying, your insurance coverage may have lapsed.
  • Medical condition —A doctor must confirm that your medical problems force you to stop working for 12 months or longer. You must have seen a doctor to treat your condition within the year prior to your application or you must undergo a disability determination services (DDS) exam afterward.
  • Income level — If you can still work despite your medical condition, you must be unable to engage in “substantial gainful activity.” This is measured by a maximum level of monthly earnings, which is $1,470 for non-blind individuals in 2023.

The review process for SSD applications is quite arduous. The Social Security Administration (SSA) typically takes three to five months to review an application. The current average processing time for applications in Tennessee is 400 days. There is also a mandatory five-month waiting period before payment of benefits can begin after the onset date of disability.

The SSA denies four out of five initial Tennessee disability applications — a significant number of them due to basic paperwork errors. Other denials relate to disputes over the severity of applicants’ medical conditions. Still others are based on failure to cooperate in the application process, failure to follow a doctor’s treatment plan or failure to provide information about monthly earnings.

If your claim is denied, you have 60 days to appeal. Your case then enters the reconsideration phase, at which even a smaller percentage of appeals are approved. The next step is to request a hearing before an administrative law judge, at which you can submit additional evidence. If you do not prevail, there may be other levels of appeal possible.

Retaining an experienced local Social Security Disability lawyer can significantly increase the speed of your case and improve your chances of approval. If an appeal is needed, it should never be attempted without legal counsel.

At Massengill, Caldwell & Coughlin, P.C., in Bristol, we will diligently pursue your Tennessee or Virginia SSD claim from application to approval. Call us at 423-797-6022 or contact us online for a free initial consultation.