Social Security Disability Lawyer in Morristown, TN

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Around 8 million Americans have a disability that limits or prevents them from working. Every year, nearly 400,000 Americans become totally disabled. People who suffer from a disability have an unemployment rate exceeding 70 percent. But only about one-third of workers have disability insurance.


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If you are disabled and unable to work, Social Security Disability Insurance (known as SSDI or SSD) may be available. Obtaining SSD benefits can be difficult, however, and many people who should qualify are initially denied. At The Terry Law Firm, we help disabled individuals with all legal matters related to SSD, from filing an initial claim to appealing a denied claim.

Don’t risk a denied claim. Get in touch with the experienced Social Security Disability attorneys at The Terry Law Firm, and let us help you pursue the full benefits you need to support yourself and your family. Call (423) 586-5800 or contact us online to discuss a Social Security Disability claim.

Understanding Social Security Disability

Social Security Disability is a type of earned social insurance that provides partial income replacement benefits to disabled workers and their dependents. Workers earn SSD benefits by working and paying Social Security taxes on their earnings.

Approximately 10 million to 11 million Americans receive SSD benefits. The program pays out about $200 billion in benefits each year. Lifetime benefits average about $300,000.

A 20-year-old has a 1 in 4 chance of becoming disabled prior to reaching retirement age. The Social Security Act very strictly defines disability, and the reality is, more claims are denied than approved. But for those who rely on SSD, the modest benefits can make a huge difference.

SSD Qualifications

Whether you qualify for SSD depends on two factors: your medical information and your work history.

Medical Information and Disability Definition

Applicants must meet the definition of disability under Social Security. A multi-step process is used to make this determination. It includes

  • How much (if at all) you are currently working and earning
  • The severity of your impairment
  • Your ability to do the work you previously did
  • Your ability to do any other type of suitable work

Special situations may apply to people who are blind or have low vision; for disabled widows or widowers; and for disabled children.

Work History and Social Security Credits

Provided that you meet Social Security’s definition of disability, you must also have worked long enough (duration of work test) and recently enough (recent work test) under Social Security to qualify for benefits.

When you apply for benefits, Social Security looks at whether you have the minimum amount of “credits” required. Credits are earned by working and paying Social Security taxes. Taxpayers earn a maximum of four credits per year. The amount of earnings required to earn a credit is subject to change each year. As of 2019, a worker must earn $1,360 in covered earnings to earn one Social Security credit and $5,440 to obtain the maximum of four annual credits.

The number of credits needed to qualify for disability benefits generally ranges between 6 and 40, depending on a worker’s age at the time he or she becomes disabled. Younger workers may qualify with fewer credits, while older workers generally require more credits.

In addition to passing the SSD duration of work test, a person must have worked for a certain number of years during the period immediately preceding the disability. For example, a worker who is disabled before turning 24 must have worked for 1.5 years in the previous 3 years (i.e., earned 6 credits in the last 3 years), while a worker who becomes disabled at age 31 or older must have worked for 5 out of the last 10 years (or earned 20 credits in the prior 10 years). Limited exceptions apply to people who are blind or were previously disabled before the age of 31.

SSD qualification criteria is complex. You may have questions or need help filing a claim. The knowledgeable Morristown disability lawyers at The Terry Law Firm are here to help. Get answers to frequently asked SSD questions.

Benefit Amount

The average monthly benefit paid to a disabled worker is approximately $1,250. Some workers receive less than this amount. The maximum benefit amount is roughly $2,800 per month.

Social Security bases your disability benefits on a complicated weighted formula that takes into account your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME). Using your AIME, Social Security calculates your primary insurance amount (PIA). If you have an online Social Security account, you can use benefit calculators to estimate benefit payments.

Receiving other government benefits, such as workers’ compensation, may reduce your SSDI benefits. If you receive private disability benefits from an insurance policy, this will not affect your SSDI benefits.

Benefits Period

Approved claimants can expect benefit payment to begin for the sixth full month after the date the disability began. In other words, a disability beginning on June 15 would be paid for the month of December. Benefits are paid in the month following the month they are due. Thus, benefits due for the month of December are paid in January, benefits due for the month of January are paid in February, and so on.

Retroactive benefits (i.e. “backpay”) are available in most cases. The application date, the date of disability, and the mandatory five-month waiting period affect benefit backpay. Benefits may be available for up to 12 months prior to the application date, but not for any month prior to the disability period.

SSDI beneficiaries can continue to receive benefits until their medical condition improves and they are able to return to work. Beneficiaries whose condition is expected to improve may be subject to continuing eligibility reviews. If a review concludes that the beneficiary is able to return to work, this decision can be appealed.

For severe and permanent disabilities, payment can continue until retirement age, at which point Social Security retirement benefits replace Social Security disability benefits.

How Long Does It Take to Be Approved for SSD?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to how long it takes for a claim to be approved. The actual decision time depends on a number of factors, including the appeals process, the documents needed to process the claim, and the backlogs at a particular Social Security office.

It typically takes around 30 to 90 days for a decision on the initial disability claim. If the initial claim is denied, an appeal can be filed within two months.

From the time the appeal is submitted, the reconsideration period takes about 60 days. If a second denial is issued, the claimant can request a hearing.

Waiting for a hearing can extend the claims process to a year or more. Backlogs have forced some applicants to wait up to two years for a hearing in recent years, but different offices have different wait times.

Final approval rests on a doctor’s decision that the disability is severe enough to prevent an applicant from working. Although Social Security will request records for you from your treating physician(s), there’s no telling how long the doctor(s) will take to send in the records. You may be able to expedite the process by obtaining copies of the records yourself and submitting them with your application. Further review with a Social Security doctor may also be needed, which can prolong the process.

The average time from the hearing request date until a hearing is held ranges from 9 months to 23 months. You can see the waiting time at your local office here.

Social Security’s Compassionate Allowances program allows disability claims for severe medical conditions to be fast tracked. Individuals who have an approved condition can have their claim approved much more quickly. Learn more about Compassionate Allowances.

Information You Need to File a Social Security Disability Claim

Applying for Social Security Disability involves extensive documentation. Be prepared to provide the following:

  • Social Security number
  • Birth certificate
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residency
  • Work history and education records
  • Employment forms, including recent W-2s and tax returns
  • Adult Disability Report
  • Medical records, doctors’ statements, health care providers’ contact information, lab results, prescription information, dates of health care appointments, and other medical evidence related to your disabling condition
  • Information on disability claims filed with workers’ compensation and/or similar benefit programs
  • Military service records
  • Information about your marriages, divorces, and children
  • Your criminal history
  • Direct deposit banking details

The SSDI application process places a lot of responsibility on the applicant to provide the right materials in a timely manner. For each type of supporting documentation, Social Security has strict rules on whether it must be an original or an official copy. Failure to include the right documents with your benefits application can cause your claim to be delayed or denied.

Our Social Security Disability lawyers understand that there is a lot riding on your SSD claim. We can help you gather all the paperwork and other appropriate information needed to file a complete claim. If your claim was denied, we can help you file an appeal or represent you in a hearing. Schedule a free consultation now to learn more.

SSDI Approval Rates by Adjudicative Level

About 45 percent of all SSDI claims are approved. The number of applicants awarded benefits at the initial claims level averages around one-third. The number of applicants awarded benefits at the reconsideration and hearing levels average around 3 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Denied disability claims average more than 50 percent.

Approval rates vary by state. Statistics show that Tennessee has initial and reconsideration approval rates near or below the national average, but the state’s hearing approval rate is higher than the national average.

Patience can be a virtue in the Social Security Disability claims process, since Appeals Council hearing approval rates are higher than reconsideration approval rates. If you take the rare step of appealing a case all the way to Federal District Court, the approval rate may be as high as 40 percent.

If you plan on appealing a council decision at the federal court level, a complaint must be filed with the court within 60 days of receiving the council’s denial letter. At this stage of review, no new evidence is considered. The federal judge will review the evidence that was previously provided to the Appeals Council and either change the council’s decision, uphold the council’s decision, or send the case back to the Social Security Administration for additional review.

How Our East Tennessee SSD Lawyers Can Help You

The experienced SSD attorneys at The Terry Law Firm handle all legal matters related to Social Security Disability, from the initial application stage through administrative hearings and federal court. We understand how important SSD benefits can be to you and your family. That is why we are committed to fighting every step of the way for the full benefits you need.

Since 1960, clients have chosen The Terry Law Firm for our award-winning lawyers, proven track record of success, and compassionate customer service. During a free initial case review, our legal team will take the time to discuss your concerns, answer your questions, and outline all of your options for moving forward.

For help with your Social Security Disability claim, please call us at (423) 586-5800 or send us a message online.


Social Security Disability

Am I eligible for Social Security Disability benefits?

Social Security will pay you benefits if you cannot work because you have a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in your death. This description is the federal government’s definition for disability and will be used to determine whether your situation qualifies you for disability benefits. The definition limits the disability payments to long-term only and does not give money to people with partial disability or short-term disability. Primarily, if you have paid enough in Social Security taxes – at least half of the working quarters since you turned 21 years of age – you are eligible to file a claim for Social Security Disability if you become disabled.

To get disability benefits, in addition to meeting the disabled definition, you must also meet two different earnings criteria:

  1. A “recent work” test based on your age at the time you became disabled; and
  2. A “duration of work” test to show that you worked long enough under Social Security.

Who decides if my disability entitles me to SSDI?

The Social Security office will review your application to determine whether you worked enough years to qualify and to assess the level of your current work activities. If you meet these criteria, your application will be passed on to the Disability Determination Services office in your state which completes the disability decision for the Social Security office.

The state agency will ask your doctors and specialists for information about your condition and will consider all the facts in your case. They will use the medical evidence from your doctors and hospitals, clinics or institutions where you have been treated and all other information.

Specifically, they will ask the medical team for the following information:

  • What your medical condition is
  • When your medical condition began
  • How your medical condition limits your activities
  • What the medical tests have shown
  • What treatment you have received

In addition to the above, they also will ask the doctors for information about your ability to do work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, lifting, carrying and remembering instructions. Your doctors are not asked to decide if you are disabled. Additional medical information may be needed before a final decision can be made. It is possible that the state agency will ask you to go for a special examination. Although the preference is to use your current doctor, the exam may be conducted by another qualified physician.

How long will my application process take?

According to the Social Security Administration the length of time it takes to receive a decision on your disability claim can take from three to five months.

It can vary depending on several factors, but primarily on:

  • The nature of your disability;
  • How quickly medical evidence is obtained from your doctor or other medical source;
  • Whether it is necessary to send you for a medical examination in order to obtain evidence to support your claim; and
  • If your claim is randomly selected for quality assurance review of the decision.

Is there an alternative to the full application process?

Yes. The Social Security Disability Insurance has an initiative called Compassionate Allowances (CAL). This is a process whereby the Social Security office can provide benefits quickly to applicants whose medical conditions are so serious that their conditions obviously meet disability standards. There are 88 qualifying rare diseases and cancers on the list. Compassionate allowances allow the office to quickly identify diseases and other medical conditions that qualify under the Listing of Impairments, based on minimal objective medical information. Compassionate allowances allow Social Security to quickly target the most obviously disabled individuals and get their benefits to them.

Is my family eligible to receive benefits?

It is possible that certain members of your family qualify for benefits based on your condition and your previous work.

Those family members include:

  • Your spouse, if he or she is 62 or older
  • Your spouse, at any age if he or she is caring for a child of yours who is younger than age 16 or disabled
  • Your unmarried child, including an adopted child, or, in some cases, a stepchild or grandchild. The child must be under age 18 or under age 19 if in elementary or secondary school full time
  • Your unmarried child, age 18 or older, if he or she has a disability that started before age 22. (The child’s disability also must meet the definition of disability for adults.)
  • Your divorced spouse may qualify for benefits based on your earnings if he or she was married to you for at least 10 years, is not currently married and is at least age 62. The money paid to a divorced spouse does not reduce your benefit or any benefits due to your current spouse or children.