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Tennessee disability benefits

How to Qualify for Disability Benefits in Tennessee

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
March 27, 2024  ·  2 min read
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Atticus offers free, high-quality disability advice for Americans who can't work. Our team of Stanford and Harvard trained lawyers has a combined 15+ years of legal experience, and have helped over 10,000 Americans apply for disability benefits.

See if you qualify

In Tennessee, residents who cannot work due to injury or illness can access several benefits programs. Although Tennessee does not have a state-specific short-term disability program, individuals can apply for Social Security benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). These federal programs include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which provide eligible individuals with financial assistance and healthcare coverage. We’ll walk through the types of benefits programs in Tennessee and the eligibility requirements.


How to qualify for disability benefits in Tennessee

Qualifying for disability benefits in Tennessee involves a structured evaluation process defined by the SSA. Here’s an overview to help you understand the key steps and qualifications for SSDI and SSI:

The 5-Step Sequential Disability Evaluation Process

To determine eligibility for disability benefits, the SSA follows a methodical 5-step evaluation process to assess your work capability and medical condition.

  1. Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA): The SSA will assess if you're working and earning more than a specific monthly amount ($1,550 for non-blind individuals in 2024), which would be considered engaging in SGA and may disqualify you from receiving disability benefits.

  2. Severe impairment: The SSA then examines if your condition significantly limits your ability to perform basic work-related activities. Your condition must be expected to last more than 12 months.

  3. SSA definition of disability: Your condition is evaluated against the SSA’s criteria in its Blue Book to see if it meets their definition of disability. Even if your condition is not listed, you can qualify if you can prove you cannot work because of your disability. 

  4. Previous work: The SSA will consider if you can perform previous work you’ve done in the past 15 years. They’ll also determine your residual functional capacity (RFC), which is the most work you can perform despite your limitations.

  5. Other work: Finally, the SSA evaluates if you can do any other type of work based on your RFC, age, education, and work experience. 

SSDI benefits eligibility

To be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), applicants must meet both medical and work history criteria set by the SSA:

  • Applicants must meet the SSA's disability criteria and be unable to work for at least a year due to a medical condition.

  • The SSA generally requires 40 work credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years. You likely meet this if you’ve worked 5 out of the previous 10 years and paid Social Security taxes.

SSI benefits eligibility

To qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), applicants must meet medical and income requirements:

  • You must be unable to work for at least a year due to a qualifying disability or be

  • You must have less than $2,000 in assets ($3,000 for married couples) and limited income. Most types of income and support can affect eligibility.

Learn more about the differences between SSDI and SSI, and about the strict SSI assets and income requirements

We've helped 3,524 Tennesseans applying for benefits.

What conditions qualify for disability in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, as in the rest of the U.S., eligibility for Social Security disability benefits is not dependent on the name of a condition. Instead, its based on how severely the condition affects your ability to work. 

The SSA maintains a comprehensive list of medical conditions considered severe enough to prevent an individual from engaging in substantial gainful activity (SGA). This list, known as the SSA Blue Book, outlines the evaluation process for qualifying conditions.

It's important to note that simply having a condition listed in the SSA Blue Book does not automatically qualify someone for disability benefits. The key factor in determining eligibility is the severity of the condition and how it limits your ability to work. The SSA thoroughly reviews medical evidence to assess the condition's impact on your daily life and work capabilities.

For individuals with conditions not explicitly mentioned in the Blue Book, the SSA will evaluate their Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to determine if they can perform any work given their limitations.

Conditions most approved in Tennessee

According to the latest SSA data, the most common conditions to qualify for benefits in Tennessee are:

  • Mental disorders: 29.8%

  • Diseases of the musculoskeletal system: 33.2%

  • Diseases of the nervous system and sense organs: 9.5%

Among the mental disorders, the most common in the state are: 

  • Depression, bipolar, and related disorders: 27,193 beneficiaries

  • Intellectual disorders: 20,532 beneficiaries

  • Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders: 8,231 beneficiaries


Disability benefits in Tennessee

Do I need a disability lawyer in Tennessee?

No, the SSA does not require disability applicants to work with a lawyer, but working with a disability attorney is a good idea. Case in point: Working with a disability lawyer improves your chances of winning benefits three times. 

Benefits of working with a disability lawyer

Navigating the complexities of applying for disability benefits can be overwhelming, especially when you are focused on managing your health. A disability lawyer can:

  • Build your case: Disability lawyers specialize in the intricacies of Social Security law and understand how to present a case in the most favorable light.

  • Gather medical records: An experienced attorney will know exactly what medical evidence is needed to support your disability claim.

  • Complete and submit paperwork: The application process involves extensive paperwork. A lawyer can ensure that all documents are accurately completed and submitted on time.

  • Represent you at hearings: If your claim goes to a hearing, having a lawyer to represent you can be invaluable. They'll prepare you for questions, argue on your behalf, and present your case to the judge.


SSA offices in Tennessee

From Cookeville to Nashville, Johnson City to Memphis, there are 28 SSA offices throughout the state of Tennessee. Visit your nearest SSA field office to apply for benefits:

Athens

921 Congress Pkwy N

Athens, TN 37303

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM

Phone Number: (866) 964-7431

Fax Number: (833) 597-0068

Chattanooga

1290 Premier Dr Ste 140

Chattanooga, TN 37421

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM

Phone Number: (866) 964-0029

Fax Number: (833) 597-0086

Clarksville

119 Center Pointe Dr

Clarksville, TN 37040

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM

Phone Number: (877) 531-4695

Fax Number: (833) 597-0134

Cleveland

529 Inman St W

Cleveland, TN 37311

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM

Phone Number: (855) 207-4867

Fax Number: (833) 912-2284

Columbia

1885 Shady Brook St

Columbia, TN 38401

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM

Phone Number: (877) 876-3174

Fax Number: (833) 597-0124

Cookeville

1145 Perimeter Park Dr

Cookeville, TN 38501

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM

Phone Number: (888) 717-1528

Fax Number: (833) 597-0132

Dyersburg

1070 Vendall Rd

Dyersburg, TN 38024

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM

Phone Number: (877) 480-5002

Fax Number: (833) 597-0126

Gallatin

637 Commons Dr

Gallatin, TN 37066

Hours: Monday - Friday 9:00AM - 4:00PM

Phone Number: (866) 964-7392

Fax Number: (833) 950-3791

All SSA offices in Tennessee


Get help with your disability application

If you’re a Tennessean applying for disability benefits, we can help. Take our 2-minute quiz to assess your eligibility, and a member of our team will follow up for more information about your case.

We can introduce you to a qualified disability lawyer who can help you navigate the disability application process. There are no upfront costs to work with Atticus—you only pay your lawyer a one-time fee when they win you benefits.

Frequently asked questions about benefits in Tennessee

How do I qualify for disability in Tennessee?

To qualify for disability you need to have a condition that prevents you from working for at least a year. You’ll also need to meet certain work history requirements (for SSDI) or be within certain income limits (for SSI). For more on these requirements, read our full write up here.

What conditions qualify for disability in Tennessee?

Any condition that will prevent you from working for a year or more can qualify for disability benefits. Some of the most common conditions include musculoskeletal disorders, mental disorders, nervous system diseases, and circulatory system diseases. See our full list of conditions that qualify here.

How long does it take to get approved for disability in Tennessee?

It takes an average of 7 months to get an initial disability decision in Tennessee. Most people who apply are initially rejected, and need to appeal this decision. If you appeal and go to a hearing, the process takes around two years on average. Read more: How Long It Takes to Get Approved for Disability Benefits

How much does disability pay in Tennessee?

The average SSDI payment in Tennessee is $1,678 per month. The average SSI payment is $599 per month. What you’ll earn is dependent on your income, or the amount you’ve historically paid into the Social Security program. Read more on what amount you can expect.

How should I prepare my disability application in Tennessee?

Answer the application questions truthfully, consistently, and succinctly. You should also ensure that you gather and submit all your medical records with your application. The SSA paperwork can be complicated, so our legal team has written a full guide to the application here.

Does Tennessee have a state disability program?

No, Tennessee doesn't have a state disability program. Only five states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) have a state program. Residents of Tennessee can apply for federal disability programs (SSDI and SSI). Read more about SSDI and SSI here.

See what you qualify for

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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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