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Tennessee Disability Benefits: How to Apply and How Much You'll Receive

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
December 13, 2022  ·  5 min read

Jump to

  1. What disability programs are there in Tennessee? 
  2. Qualifying for disability in Tennessee
  3. How to apply for disability in Tennessee
  4. How long does it take to get disability benefits in Tennessee? 
  5. How much are disability benefits in Tennessee?
  6. How to find the right disability lawyer in Tennessee

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Over 250,000 people in Tennessee receive Social Security disability benefits. And if you’re struggling to work due to a medical condition — you should also qualify. 

This guide will help you understand how Social Security Disability benefits work in Tennessee and what steps you should take to give yourself the best chance of being approved.

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What disability programs are there in Tennessee? 

Tennessee does not have its own statewide disability program. The way that you apply for disability in Tennessee is through federal programs or private disability benefits. 

Below are the four most common disability benefits programs.

  1. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI provides benefits to Americans who have worked in previous years but cannot work anymore due to a severe medical condition. The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers SSDI benefits. With SSDI, the longer you’ve worked and paid taxes, larger your benefit checks will be.
  2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI): SSI is an option if you haven’t worked recently or for very long. Like SSDI, SSI is a federal program administered through the SSA and uses the same application.SSI may be your best bet if you have limited income and assets. 
  3. Long-term or short-term private disability insurance: Some employers offer disability insurance that you can elect before getting injured or ill and pay for directly out of your paychecks.With this type of policy, you file a claim directly with your employer’s private insurance provider. Depending on your policy, you’ll receive a portion of your paycheck for a period of time. Your employer’s HR or benefits department will be able to help you understand your eligibility.
  4. Veterans disability benefits: If you’re a US military veteran but unable to work due to your injury or illness, you are eligible for disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Retired veterans whose service in the military resulted in a medical condition can also apply. To learn more, visit the VA’s disability benefits website

This remainder of this guide will cover only SSDI and SSI, as they’re the most common type of disability benefits for Tennesseans. Even if you qualify for private disability or veterans disability benefits, you may still need to apply for SSDI or SSI — some private insurance programs even require it. 

Qualifying for disability in Tennessee

Qualifying for SSDI or SSI comes with both medical and non-medical eligibility requirements. The medical requirements are the same for both SSDI and SSI, but each program has different work and income requirements.

Medical conditions that qualify for disability in Tennessee

If you have a medical condition that prevents you from being able to work for at least a year, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

SSA released the most common conditions to qualify for disability benefits in Tennessee (as a percentage of benefits recipients), and they are as follows:

  • Diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue: 33.3% 
  • Mental Disorders: 29.7% 
  • Diseases of the nervous system and sense organs: 9.4% 
  • Diseases of the circulatory system: 7.8%
  • Endocrine, nutritional, and metabolic diseases: 2.9% 
  • Injuries: 3.3% 
  • Diseases of the respiratory system: 3% 
  • Neoplasms (Cancer): 2.8% 
  • Diseases of the genito-urinary system: 1.6% 
  • Diseases of the digestive system: 1.5% 
  • Infectious and parasitic diseases: 0.7% 
  • Congenital anomalies: 0.4%
  • Diseases of the blood and blood-forming organs: 0.3% 
  • Diseases of the skin and subcutaneous tissue: 0.2%
  • Other types of mental or physical disorders: 0.2% 
  • Unknown: 2.8%

The SSA considers mental health conditions when granting disability. A few of the most common mental health disorders people qualified for benefits for were:

  • Depressive, bipolar, and related disorders: 28,653 people
  • Intellectual disorders: 20,909 people
  • Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders: 8,518 people

Learn more about the medical conditions that qualify for disability benefits, or read our guide on all the conditions that may qualify

Non-medical SSDI qualifications

To qualify for SSDI, you must:

  • Be under 67 years old.
  • Meet work credit requirements. These are based on age and can be determined through your SSA.gov account. In most cases, people qualify if they have worked five out of the last 10 years.

Learn more about SSDI eligibility.

Non-medical SSI qualifications

To qualify for SSI, you must: 

  • Have personal or retirement savings assets less than $2,000 for single applicants and $3,000 for married individuals.
  • Have little to no personal income, typically less than $1,000 per month.

Learn more about SSI eligibility.

How to apply for disability in Tennessee

You will need to fill out multiple forms to apply for disability. The first is the main application form with all of your background and basic information. Then there are supplementary forms where you fill out your employment history, daily physical limitations, and any medical treatment you receive for your condition. You can fill out these forms on your own, though most people who win disability benefits get legal help from a disability lawyer.

How to submit an application

There are three ways to file your disability benefits application: 

  1. Apply online through the SSA website
  2. Apply over the phone by calling (800) 772-1213 
  3. Apply in person at your local SSA office

If you decide not to work with a lawyer, applying in person may increase your chances of receiving benefits. The SSA employees won’t be able to counsel you on how to answer questions in your favor, but they can advise you on how to fill out the forms accurately and completely. 

How should I prepare my application? 

Give yourself plenty of time to prepare your disability benefits application. People often say the paperwork takes longer than they thought, because so many pieces are involved. 

If your condition is complex, you likely have multiple doctors and records to gather. If you work with a lawyer, they will often collect these for you and keep track of everything so that nothing falls through the cracks.

If you choose to apply on your own, here are some steps you’ll need to take to prepare and submit your application:

  • Organize your documents and records. Make sure to get current medical and education records, employment history, bank statements, doctors’ notes, medical bills, and any other relevant documents together before submitting your application. 
  • Submit the application with your supporting forms and records. Remember to use consistent language to describe your limitations that your medical records can prove. A judge will compare your notes against your providers’ notes to ensure accuracy. Be mindful that some of the questions seem to ask different questions but are trying to gauge the same thing.
  • Follow up with the SSA soon after you submit. Because you are one of hundreds of thousands of disability benefits applicants, the SSA has a lot to keep track of, and they do miss things. Reach out to them in the days following your application submission to ensure they’ve received it and have started processing.
  • Respond to any requests from SSA immediately. You have a very short window to respond to the SSA after they request information or documentation from you — only 10 days. Make sure to respond immediately to increase your chances of receiving benefits.

A disability lawyer handles these steps and acts on your behalf to ensure that everything is tracked and followed up on immediately. 

Atticus provides free legal advice and can match you with a lawyer if you choose to use one. Take our 2-minute disability quiz to see if you qualify.

What happens after I apply?

While you may receive benefits after your initial application, it is rare. Only about 30% of applications are accepted on the first round of submission. Most people have to file for reconsideration. Even then, some 90% of applications are rejected again. At that point, you would need to go in front of a judge to review your case during a hearing.

The good news is that half of the people who go to hearing are approved for benefits. And that number goes up even further when you have legal representation from a disability lawyer. 

If your case goes to a hearing, there is some work to do to prepare to give yourself the best chance of winning. Here’s what to expect at a disability hearing and how to set yourself up for success.

How long does it take to get disability benefits in Tennessee? 

If your application is accepted, it takes 5-6 months to get disability benefits in Tennessee. If your application is initially rejected, it takes an average of ~22 months, or just under 2 years.

(Luckily, the SSA reimburse you for the time you spent waiting, and should have been receiving benefits — this is called back pay. More on back pay here).

Here's how the wait times breakdown:

In 2021, applicants received an initial decision, on average, in 5.5 months. If they were rejected, and applied for reconsideration, it took another 4.9 months to receive that decision. 

After that, the average wait time for a hearing in Tennessee is 11.58 months. Depending on which office handles your hearing, this number could be higher or lower. 

Here are the average wait times, by hearing office, in Tennessee.

Hearing office

Wait time


9 months


12 months


13 months


11 months


13.5 months


11 months

You can speed up the process only by sending the requested documentation to the SSA as soon as possible. Your lawyer will help ensure you meet deadlines and respond to the SSA with all the necessary information.

How much are disability benefits in Tennessee?

The amount of disability depends on which type of benefits you receive. Below are the averages for Tennessee.

Average SSDI payments in Tennessee

According to the most recent SSA data, the average monthly SSDI benefit Tennessee disabled workers receive is $1,325 — about $30 lower than the national average. However, your exact SSDI benefit check depends on your work history, and the maximum monthly SSDI payment is about $3,600 in 2023.

To learn what your potential SSDI payout will be, visit SSA.gov and create an account using the following steps:

  • Visit SSA.gov
  • Scroll down to “learn about my account” next to “mySocialSecurity”
  • Create an account using your Social Security number (SSN). This takes a few steps and authentication.
  • Scroll down to the section titled “Disability”

Average SSI payments in Tennessee

The average monthly SSI payment in Tennessee is $565, which is very close to the national average of $568 per month. 

The maximum disability anyone can receive from SSI is $914 per month, regardless of the state in which you live. SSA uses your monthly income to determine the amount of your SSI benefits.

How to find the right disability lawyer in Tennessee

While it’s not required, working with a disability lawyer can save you a lot of stress and help speed up your SSI and SSDI filings and determinations. They help from start to finish — from preparing your application to preparing and representing you for a hearing. 

Your chances of winning disability benefits are three times higher when you have legal representation.

When searching for a Tennessee disability lawyer, consider asking them these questions before choosing one. 

We know that choosing a lawyer from the pool of them that exists can be daunting. If you need some help, we can match you with a lawyer who is a good fit for your specific claim — free of charge.

We carefully vet our disability lawyers from an extensive professional legal network and trust them to treat your case with care. Take the first step by filling out our disability quiz.

Triple your chances of getting approved. Get matched with a top disability lawyer today.

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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