The Tennessee Social Security disability lawyers at Smith and Cockett offer help to those seeking Tennessee disability benefits
The first question we are usually asked by our Tennessee disability clients – and our disability clients in Virginia, North Carolina throughout the Southeast region – is “Will I qualify for Social Security disability benefits?”
This is a common question asked by our Kingsport disability clients. To qualify for Tennessee Social Security disability benefits, you must be found to be “disabled.” The Social Security Administration will find you “disabled” only if your physical or mental impairment is so severe that you are unable to do your previous work and you cannot, considering your age, education, and work experience, do any other substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy.
How the Social Security Administration decides if you are eligible for Tennessee Social Security disability benefits
To determine whether you qualify for Tennessee Social Security disability benefits, the Social Security Administration will use a five-step evaluation process to apply the above definition of “disabled” to your case. The following is a summary of the five-step approach. Please note that the words in quotes are terms of art that have particular definitions in Social Security law.
- Step 1: Are you doing “substantial gainful activity”? You will not be found disabled if you are doing “substantial gainful activity,” which is work that pays you $1,000 per month or more and involves more than minimum duties. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, the Social Security Administration will not find you disabled. If you are not doing substantial gainful activity, your claim moves on to Step 2.
- Step 2: Do you have a “severe” impairment? An impairment or combination of impairments is severe if it significantly limits your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. Examples of basic work activities include: use of judgment; seeing, hearing, and speaking; walking, standing, sitting, lifting, and reaching; and understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple instructions. If you do not have a severe impairment, then the Social Security Administration will not find you disabled. If you impairment is severe, your claim moves on to Step 3.
- Step 3: Does your disability meet or equal one of the impairments described in the Listing of Impairments? The Listing of Impairments is a Social Security regulation that sets medical standards for a variety of common mental and physical conditions. The Listing of Impairments is available on the Internet at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/index.htm. The Social Security Administration will find you disabled if you impairment (a) meets or “equals” one of the impairments described in the Listings, and (b) has lasted 12 continuous months (or is it expected to last that long or result in death). If you satisfy this step, you will qualify for disability benefits and there is no need to continue to the next two steps. If your impairment does not meet or equal a listing, your claim moves on to Steps 4 and 5.
- Step 4: Can you still do any of your previous jobs? Considering your “residual functional capacity,” are you able to do your past relevant work (any work you have performed in the last 15 years)? To meet Step 4, you usually must prove that you can no longer do the easiest job that you held in the last 15 years. The Social Security Administration will compare your current ability to work with the physical and mental demands of your easiest job in the last 15 years. If you can do past relevant work, then you will not be found disabled. If you cannot do past relevant work, your claim moves on to Step 5.
- Step 5: Can you perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the economy? This is the most complicated step in the evaluation process. At this step, the Social Security Administration will consider your age, education, remaining capacity for work (“residual functional capacity”), and work experience. If you can make an adjustment to perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the economy, you will not be found disabled. If you cannot do any other generally available jobs, you will be found disabled and will be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. The older you are, the easier it becomes to satisfy this step.
See The Sequential Evaluation Process for more information about the Social Security Administration’s five-step sequential evaluation process.
In addition to the disability requirements set forth in the five-step approach above, you must be “insured” to receive Tennessee or Kingsport disability benefits. To be “insured,” you must have paid Social Security taxes over a long enough period of time and paid such taxes recently enough. After you stop working (and stop paying Social Security taxes), there will come a time when your insured status will lapse, just like with a private insurance plan. If you are disabled but not insured, you may be eligible for disability benefits under the Social Security Administration’s Supplemental Security Income program, which is often referred to as SSI.
If you have paid Social Security taxes and if your answers matched the ones above, you have a good chance of qualifying for Tennessee Social Security disability benefits.
For more information about qualifying for disability benefits, see our video Will you qualify for Social Security disability benefits?
Does my age affect whether I qualify for Tennessee disability benefits?
An older Tennessee disability claimant has better odds than a younger claimant of being awarded Tennessee Social Security disability benefits. The same is true anywhere in the United States. Social Security regulations make it easier to qualify for Social Security disability benefits for a few people at age 45 (those who are illiterate), for more people at age 50, for most people at age 55, and even more people at age 60.
Social Security law requires the Social Security Administration to consider age as part of its five-step evaluation process summarized above. As part of the evaluation process, the Social Security Administration considers if you can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. This requires adaptability on the part of the individual. Generally, as you grow older you become less adaptable – and less able to switch to a different job as a result of your disability. For example, a severe leg injury that might cause a 33-year-old to switch to a job in which he or she can sit down most of the time, might disable a 62-year-old person who could not make the adjustment to a different type of work.
You may be medically eligible to receive Tennessee Social Security disability benefits regardless of your age. However, if you are over age 50, it is important to understand the Social Security Administration’s special guidelines and presumptions for those over 50. Experienced Tennessee disability attorneys can use the Social Security Administration’s special regulations for claimants over 50 to help win disability benefits. For our Tennessee or Southeast disability claimants under 50, we work together with them to build strong cases that show what is necessary to be awarded Social Security disability benefits.
For more information about how an individual’s age may affect his or her Social Security disability case, see Does my age matter?
Our firm’s expertise in and commitment to Tennessee Social Security disability law
Our firm’s co-founding partner Harry Joseph Smith has been practicing disability law since 1976. Harry has almost 35 years of experience working with Social Security disability clients throughout the Southeast – from Georgia to Texas, Tennessee to Florida – and has established a proven and respected record of service. Harry has been recognized as among the top 100 lawyers in Tennessee numerous times. He puts his knowledge and a commitment to client service to work for Social Security disability claimants in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and throughout the entire Southeast.
Our disability team led by Harry helps people understand when they should apply for Social Security disability benefits and when they need the support of an experienced Tennessee disability lawyer. We are proud to be recognized throughout the Southeast, in states such as Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas, for our work with people in need of assistance with their Social Security disability or SSI benefits cases. We have a proven record of success and only charge you attorneys’ fees when we collect. For information about us, see About us.
What experienced Tennessee disability lawyers can do to help you win Social Security benefits in Tennessee and across the Southeast
The process of applying for and winning Social Security disability or SSI benefits can be complicated complex and often frustrating. An experienced Tennessee disability attorney can help guide you through the paperwork, bureaucracy and challenges. On your own, it’s just you versus the government, and without the knowledge and support of an experienced disability attorney you may be facing an uphill battle for the money you need to survive.
Not every attorney is able to fully support a Social Security disability case. Many focus primarily or exclusively on the administrative hearing, but either cannot or choose not to handle appeals. We have the resources to stay with your case from your initial application to any appeals needed in or outside of the administrative process.
We help Tennessee disability clients &nash; and disability clients throughout the Southeast – understand and move through all levels of the Social Security disability process, from when you should apply to when you should consider hiring an attorney.
We will do many things to help you win Tennessee disability benefits, and what we do may vary one client to the next. However, we generally will work on your side to:
- Help you gather the right documents and evidence necessary for your case – such as helpful medical documentation;
- Assist you with navigating through the mounds of Social Security forms, questionnaires, and other paperwork to ensure the right applications and paperwork are filed;
- Represent you at administrative hearings and advise you on how to best prepare for and testify at such hearings;
- Pursue all options for recovering your Social Security disability benefits; and
- Assist you with appealing your case as needed.
You have rights. We can help you protect them.
What to do if you initial Tennessee disability claim is denied
If you have been denied Tennessee Social Security disability benefits and are unable to work, then not only should you consider working with an experienced Tennessee disability attorney, but time is of the essence. You generally must request an appeal within 60 days from the date of the letter you received from the Social Security Administration stating that you were not disabled. The sooner we work together to build your case, the sooner we can work toward getting you the benefits you deserve.
If your initial application is denied it is important not to immediately give up hope or fear that you won’t be able to get the benefits and support you need. The reality is that alone, you are at a disadvantage. Even though you are applying for compensation that you have every right to receive, the disability application process can appear to be more focused on denying applications than accepting legitimate ones.
However, the chances of success improve significantly for those who appeal their denials. Over half of disability claimants who appeal, both in the Southeast and nationally, are ultimately awarded disability benefits. One significant reason why the disability process favors appellants over initial applicants is that unlike your initial application where a Social Security disability examiner reviews a paper file, an appeal results in a hearing before an administrative law judge. At your appeal hearing, you will have the opportunity to appear before a judge in person and explain your condition in your own words.
Experienced Tennessee disability attorneys available to help protect your Social Security disability benefits
If you are physically unable to work, you should apply for disability benefits – and you should do it sooner rather than later. Even if your application is initially denied or delayed, once approved, you are paid disability benefits back to the date you first applied. You risk nothing by applying, but you could potential risk hundreds or even thousands of dollars by waiting. You have spent a lifetime paying into a program designed to protect the injured and those unable to work. We help clients who are temporarily or permanently unable to work take on the bureaucracy of the Social Security disability system and recover the benefits they need.
We are well-respected and experienced advocates for clients seeking Social Security disability benefits in Tennessee and throughout the Southeast. Our founding attorney, Harry Joseph Smith, has been a strong advocate for injured and disabled workers for almost 35 years, and has the proven record to be effective.
Our 100-plus page website provides you with additional information about Social Security disability benefits and how the Social Security Administration will look at your claim.
If you live in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia or anywhere in the Southeast, and you need help either with your initial application or filing your appeal because your application has been denied, please complete the short claim evaluation form to the right, and we will respond promptly.
Or you may contact our office at:
Smith and Cockett
Mountain City office:
247 West Main Street
Mountain City, Tennessee 37683
224 Colonial Heights Road
Kingsport, Tennessee 37663