Your Guide to Getting Tennessee Disability Benefits

Disability Benefits

Important: We updated this article in May 2023 to make sure all info below was both current and correct. About 1.5 million residents in this state are the prime age to collect Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. That’s nearly 1 in 5 Tennesseans! However, just 3% of residents unable to work from health problems get those Tennessee disability benefits. Another 2% receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments each month. If a medical condition forces you to stop working at least one year, you may qualify for Tennessee disability.

Two Ways to Apply for Tennessee Disability Benefits

The Social Security Administration (SSA) manages two federal disability programs that pay monthly cash benefits. Both ask the same medical screening questions when you apply, but that’s where the similarities end. You can apply for Tennessee disability benefits through these two programs:

  1. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
  2. Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

And to make things easier, Tennessee disability claimants can use the same form to apply for both programs. Just check one box on your application to ensure you’re screened for both SSI and SSDI benefits when you apply!

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) FAQs

The first program, SSDI, is technically an insurance program you pay for through Social Security payroll taxes. Anyone who worked at least 5 in the last 10 years full-time and paid Social Security taxes can apply. Keep reading to learn whether you may qualify for Tennessee disability benefits through the SSDI program.

1. Which Tennessee Disability Claimants Should Apply for SSDI?

If you answer “yes” to every question below, you likely qualify to apply for SSDI:

  • Have you worked 5 in the last 10 years full-time and paid Social Security payroll taxes? That’s the first step in qualifying for Tennessee disability benefits paid through the SSDI program. If you’re already out of work for more than 60 months before you apply, then your insurance coverage already lapsed.
  • Does your doctor say your condition forces you to stop working for 12 months or longer? Your medical problem must last for at least a year or be terminal to meet the SSDI program’s eligibility requirements. The SSA won’t pay Tennessee disability benefits through SSDI if you’re expected to feel better in less than 12 months.
  • Did you see a doctor to treat your condition within the past year? If not, you’ll need a Disability Determination Services (DDS) exam after submitting your Tennessee disability claim to confirm your diagnosis. In other words, a DDS doctor must certify your health problems force you to stop working at least 12 months. If you haven’t seen a doctor lately, we recommend you talk to a lawyer before applying for Tennessee disability!
  • Are you at least 18, but younger than 67 and not currently drawing Social Security? SSDI is an insurance program working-age people pay for through taxes withheld from every paycheck. Once you turn 67, your Tennessee disability payments from SSDI automatically convert into Social Security retirement benefits. However, you cannot get regular Social Security and disability at the same time.

If you answered “no” at least once, skip to the section about Tennessee disability through the SSI program now.

2. When Can Approved Tennessee Disability Claimants Expect Their First SSDI Check?

Six months from your SSDI application date is the soonest the SSA can make your first Tennessee disability payment. On average, the SSA takes 3-5 months to review every SSDI application. And federal law requires a five-month waiting period before the SSA can pay anyone SSDI benefits. Unfortunately, 2 in every 5 Tennessee disability applicants get denied benefits for basic paperwork mistakes. Getting a lawyer to file your claim helps you avoid that issue, and it doesn’t cost you anything up front. Plus, having a Tennessee disability lawyer file your claim nearly triples your chances for benefit approval.

Right now, Tennessee disability applications for SSDI take 400 days, on average, to process. If you decide to apply on your own without a lawyer, you’ll likely wait 18 months for your first payment. That’s because the SSA currently denies 4 in every 5 initial Tennessee disability claimants. Then, you have 60 days to appeal your denial in writing. The first appeal step is called reconsideration, which takes about 100 days (on average) to complete. That puts you around 10 months out from your initial filing date. Only 2% of people get benefits at this stage. Then, the next step is to request an appeals hearing in court. If you’re in Chattanooga, you’ll wait another 9 months to plead your case. But if you’re in Franklin, it takes 13 months before your appeals hearing. In other words, you might wait 2-3 years for your first payment!

3. How Much Are SSDI Payments Each Month?

The maximum Tennessee disability payment anyone can get under the federal SSDI program is $3,627 per month. But to get that amount, you’ll need to earn a six-figure salary for decades before you apply. Nationwide, the average monthly SSDI payment is $1,483. The only way to get a raise once your benefit amount’s approved is through an annual cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA).

4. Once Approved, Are SSDI Payments Permanent?

The federal SSDI program only makes Tennessee disability payments until you turn 67. Once that happens, the SSA automatically converts your Tennessee disability payments into regular Social Security. When that happens, the amount you receive each month stays exactly the same. There’s nothing you need to do for this to happen. But that doesn’t guarantee you’ll keep getting Tennessee disability payments until that birthday passes. Instead, the SSA checks to confirm you’re still too disabled to work every 3, 5 or 7 years. If they decide you’re no longer disabled, your payments will stop immediately.

Bonus Tip: Purchase your full medical records before you apply for Tennessee disability benefits. You need strong medical evidence to support your SSDI claim, and these are the records the SSA wants to see!

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) FAQs

Some people are better off filing for disability benefits through the federal SSI program. SSI is designed to provide financial assistance to the poorest disabled, senior and blind Americans each month. SSI eligibility says you must have very limited income and almost no assets. You may qualify for SSI based on your age alone once you’re 65 or older.

1. SSI Medical Screening Questions Are The Same Ones Used for SSDI Claims

Are you blind or does your condition meet the SSA’s internal definition of “disabled?” If yes, then you likely meet the SSI program’s medical requirements. Both programs pay disability benefits every month for health issues lasting more than one year.

2. To Qualify for SSI, You Need Very Low Income and Almost No Assets

The SSI program also asks several money-related questions of Tennessee disability applicants. First, your monthly income cannot be more than $1,470 when you apply. This includes money earned through work as well as any other regular payments you receive. The SSA will count things like alimony, child support, workers’ comp, interest earned through your savings account, etc. You also can’t own more than $2,000 in assets to qualify for SSI. This means anything you can sell for cash, such as jewelry, stocks, bonds, your 401(k) or IRA funds. Some things the SSA won’t count towards this asset limit include:

  • Your house and the land it sits on (if you’re the owner)
  • One vehicle for daily transportation (car, truck, motorcycle, boat)
  • Your wedding ring, furniture, clothing and other daily living items (appliances, bedding, towels)

The SSA automatically denies your claim if you own too many things or have more than $2,000 in the bank. If you file as a married couple, you need less than $3,000 in assets and $1,470 in total income.

3. SSI Payments Are No More Than $914 for One Person, or $1,371 Per Couple for 2023

That sounds like very little money, but if you’re struggling to make ends meet then every penny counts. Luckily, the SSI program does adjust monthly payments in years that get a Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) increase. For example, monthly Tennessee disability payments for approved SSI claims rose 8.7% in January 2023.

What About Temporary or Short-Term Tennessee Disability Benefits?

Unfortunately, this state has no programs that pay short-term or temporary Tennessee disability benefits. Either you or your spouse’s employer may offer STD or LTD insurance coverage as part of their benefits plan. Otherwise, you may buy a private insurance policy on your own. However, these plans usually don’t cover conditions that already exist at the time you buy coverage.

You’re almost 3x more likely to get approved for benefits when a Tennessee disability lawyer helps you apply. An experienced Social Security attorney can answer all your questions right now, free of charge. This free consultation starts with one quick phone call. All Tennessee disability lawyers work on contingency, so you’ll pay nothing for help unless you succeed. And if you do win, then you’ll only pay one small fee.

Want free expert claim help without leaving your home? Click the button below now to start your free online benefits quiz to see if you may qualify:

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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity,, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.