SSDI stands for Social Security Disability Insurance and SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income. A person must prove that they are “disabled” according to SSA’s regulations in order to qualify for either benefit, but the definition of “disabled” is the same for both programs. The main difference between SSDI and SSI is that SSDI is a program where you work and pay in Social Security taxes, which creates an insurance program if you become disabled. SSI is for people who either have not worked at all or have not paid in Social Security taxes recently enough to qualify for SSDI. Typically, in order to qualify for SSDI, you must have worked and paid in Social Security taxes for five out of the last ten years. The other big difference between the two is that your household income will affect your SSI benefit amount while household income has no impact on SSDI benefits.  

Let’s break down the application process into manageable chunks. There are three main “levels” of a disability application.

Initial level. This is when you file your initial application. Social Security will obtain medical records from your doctors to determine if you qualify for disability. If you are not receiving medical treatment, they will likely schedule an appointment for you to be evaluated by an independent doctor to give an opinion on your impairments and how you are limited. If you are lucky, you will get approved. Unfortunately, it is rare to be approved at the initial level in the state of Tennessee. More likely than not you will have to move on to the next level.

Reconsideration level. If your initial application is denied, you have sixty days to file an appeal called a Request for Reconsideration. With this appeal you are essentially asking Social Security to take another look at your records and reconsider their decision. More likely than not, you will be denied again and will move on to the third level.

Hearing level. If your request for reconsideration is denied, you have sixty days to file a Request for Hearing. The hearing level is where most people will be approved if they are going to be approved for benefits. Most people in the state of Tennessee must go to a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge, and this is the point at which it is most important for you to have an experienced disability attorney. Your attorney will supplement SSA’s file with the necessary medical evidence, prepare you for your hearing, and accompany you to the hearing. At the hearing, a skilled attorney will present a convincing argument as to why you qualify for benefits and what evidence supports your claim and will cross-examine witnesses.  

The list is endless. Chronic pain, heart disease, diabetes, COPD, epilepsy, Bipolar Disorder, depression, anxiety, migraine headaches, arthritis, cancer, PTSD, etc.

The important thing to remember is that all of your medical conditions will be evaluated to determine if you are disabled. Social Security will not just consider one condition and ignore the others.  

Technically, yes, but there are certain rules to keep in mind before you start working while trying to get disability.

First, you must keep your income under a certain amount per month, which SSA calls "substantial gainful activity" or "SGA".  The monthly SGA amount for 2021 is $1310 for non-blind individuals. It is important to note that SSA considers gross earnings, meaning your earnings before any deductions for taxes, insurance, etc in determining whether your work is substantial gainful activity.

However, even if you keep your earnings under $1310 a month, SSA will take other factors into consideration, such as the type of work you are doing and the number of hours you are working. For example, if you applied for disability benefits because of a bad back and are working a labor job that requires you to lift heavy weights, SSA will likely find your work to be inconsistent with your application for benefits even if you are earning less than $1310 a month. Similarly, if you are working and earning just under SGA, SSA can still deny you if they determine that you have the physical or mental capacity to work more if your employer offered you more hours.

If you decide to try to work while applying for disability, the best thing to do is to discuss it with your attorney so that they can advise you how work can affect your application.

No, you should not wait because the longer you wait, the longer it will take to get your benefits. The average processing time for a disability application in the state of Tennessee is 403 days from start to finish. Call Ryan Disability Law today for a free consultation. If Robyn takes your case, she will even help you file the application.  

Yes. The older you are, the easier it is to get disability benefits because the Social Security regulations recognize that it becomes more difficult to learn new skills and adapt to changes in your work environment as you age. The magic age is fifty. When you are under fifty you must prove that you are so disabled that there are zero jobs that you can do in the national economy regardless of your education or past work experience. Once you reach the age of fifty, you simply must prove that you cannot do your past work and that you are limited to sedentary or “sit-down” work. It gets even easier at age fifty-five.  

It depends. SSI benefits are capped at $783 a month, but your household income can also affect the amount you receive. For instance, if you are married and your spouse works, their income could result in a lower benefit amount.  

SSDI benefits are also capped but at a much higher amount. The amount of your SSDI benefit will depend on how much you have worked and paid in in Social Security taxes in your lifetime. The more you have worked and earned, the higher your benefit will be.  

According to www.ssa.gov, the average monthly SSDI amount in August 2020 was $1,258.96 per month.

Yes, but the type of insurance will depend on which type of benefit you receive. If you qualify for SSDI, you will receive Medicare once you have been disabled for twenty-four months. If you have not been disabled for twenty-four months by the time you are awarded benefits, you will qualify for gap insurance through TennCare. If you only qualify for SSI rather than SSDI, you will receive insurance through TennCare.

This is the most common question that a disability attorney will encounter in their practice. The fact of the matter is that every case is different, and your neighbor may have a lot more problems than you know about. Or they may have had a great doctor who was willing to provide a well-supported opinion that they have limitations that entitled them to disability benefits. Or they were lucky and got a claims examiner at the Social Security office who was in a generous mood the day they processed your neighbor’s application. The bottom line is that no two people will have the same experience when they file for disability.  

SSA has handled the pandemic admirably. They were quick to action when the national emergency was declared in March and adapted their processes very quickly to allow their employees to work from home. Pretty much everything that needs to be done in a disability case can now be done online or over the phone. Hearings are currently being held over the phone, but SSA will be transitioning to video hearings in the not too distant future. Many attorneys were concerned at the beginning of the pandemic that everything would grind to a halt and that it would take even longer to process claims, but that has not been true in most cases so far.

Yes. This type of law is federal law, which means that the attorney only needs to be licensed in a state in order to represent a person in a disability case; it is not a requirement that the attorney be licensed in the state in which the client resides. Now that we are in a pandemic and most business is being conducted by telephone or via the internet, it is even less important for the client and attorney to be in the same geographical location. For those clients who hesitate to hire an attorney outside of their geographical location, rest assured that we can set up video conferences in order to talk face-to-face.

Many larger disability firms use case managers to perform the bulk of the work with an attorney only stepping in at the end to go to the hearing. Ryan Disability Law is an attorney driven practice rather than a case manager driven practice, which means that Robyn will actually be performing all of the work on your case from start to finish. Because she will be doing everything from speaking to you personally about your case to communicating with your medical providers and Social Security, she will be much more familiar with the details of your case than an attorney in a large practice would be.

Yes, if you qualify for regular SSDI benefits because you have paid enough Social Security taxes, your dependent children can receive additional benefits, including backpay, if they are under the age of eighteen. However, if you only qualify for SSI benefits, your children will not be entitled to additional benefits.