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How Are Social Security Disability Claims Evaluated in Tennessee?

For those who suffer illnesses or injuries that affect their ability to work, Social Security disability benefits can be an essential form of aid. These benefits are available for those who have debilitating physical or mental impairments that have caused them to be unable to obtain employment. A person must have had a debilitating condition for at least 12 months, or their condition must be expected to last for at least one year or lead to their death. Those who are looking to obtain Social Security disability benefits will want to understand the process that is used to evaluate a claim, and they can increase their chances of success by working with an experienced attorney.

Social Security Disability Tennessee

The Five-Step Sequential Evaluation Process in Social Security Disability Cases

When a person applies for Social Security benefits in Tennessee, their application will be reviewed by Disability Determination Services (DDS). In many cases, DDS chooses to deny a person’s claim. A claimant can ask DDS to reconsider this denial. If DDS denies a claim for a second time, a claimant can appeal this decision, and a hearing will be held where the case will be reviewed by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ will proceed through the following steps to determine whether the claimant is disabled:

  1. Is the claimant currently working? An ALJ will look at whether the claimant is working and earning an amount that is considered “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). The SGA amount is updated each year. For 2021, this amount is $1,310 per month, or $2,190 per month for those who are blind. If a person currently earns more than this amount, they will not be considered disabled.
  2. Does the claimant have a severe physical or mental impairment? A person’s condition must interfere with their ability to perform basic work-related activities such as sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, following instructions, making decisions, and interacting with coworkers or customers. An ALJ may review medical records and testimony from medical experts to determine the severity of a person’s condition.
  3. Is the claimant’s condition equal to or more severe than a condition on the Listing of Impairments? The Social Security Administration maintains a list of conditions that are considered severe enough to cause a person to be disabled. If a person’s condition is on this list or is functionally equivalent to one of these impairments, they will be considered disabled.
  4. Can the claimant perform work they had done in the past? An ALJ will look at a person’s work history and their current ability to work (known as residual functional capacity or RFC) to determine whether they could continue to work in a position they had previously held.
  5. Can the claimant adjust to other types of work? Based on a person’s RFC and employment history, an ALJ will determine whether they would be able to find other jobs that fit the limitations of their condition. This decision will often be based on the testimony of a vocational expert who will look at what types of jobs exist in the national economy that the claimant may be able to perform. A claimant will only be considered disabled if they would be unable to engage in SGA by making the adjustment to perform work in jobs that are available.

Contact a Chattanooga Social Security Disability Attorney

If you have a physical or mental condition that affects your ability to work, you may be able to receive disability benefits through Social Security. At Warren & Griffin, P.C., our attorneys can help you file a disability claim and make sure you provide all of the required information to show that you are disabled. If your claim is denied, we will help you appeal this decision, and we will work to help you receive the benefits you need. Contact our Tennessee Social Security disability claim lawyers at 423-265-4878 to learn more about how we can help with your disability case.

Sources:
https://www.tn.gov/humanservices/ds/disability-determination-services.html
https://www.ssa.gov/oidap/Documents/Social%20Security%20Administration.%20%20SSAs%20Sequential%20Evaluation.pdf

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