Social Security

I have applied for disability benefits and been turned down, what should I do now?

First off, be aware that you are not alone.  Last year in Tennessee, approximately 75% of applicants were denied at the initial level.  A large percentage of these individuals were able to appeal these denials to a hearing and eventually obtain benefits.  Therefore, if you feel that you are truly disabled from working, you should not give up merely because you’ve been denied.

What difference does my age make in whether or not I am disabled?

Age is an important factor in the disability determination.  As a general rule it is much more difficult for a “younger individual” (a person under age 50) to get benefits than it is for someone over age 50.  Similarly, when you turn age 55, it becomes easier to qualify.

What are Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI)?

SSDI is an insurance program run by the government and available for individuals who have paid a sufficient amount into the Social Security Trust Fund and meet certain medical eligibility requirements.

Who qualifies?

To qualify for these benefits you must meet two requirements:

  • Sufficient Credits – This will depend on how much you have paid in FICA taxes and how recently you have paid them.
  • Medical Eligibility – You must have a medical condition that given your age, education and previous work experience keeps you from performing your past work or any other work in the state or national economy.

Features of SSDI

  • If you qualify, you will become eligible for Medicare two years after you were determined to be disabled.
  • You may be eligible to draw benefits off another person’s account.  Widows/widowers, disabled adult children and minor children of a parent who is drawing benefits, may all be eligible.

What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI) ?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs based program that was instituted to provide a basic level of support to those not able to work, but who have not paid in a sufficient amount to qualify for SSDI.

Who Qualifies?

You must first meet the same medical eligibility test used for SSDI (see above).  However, unlike SSDI, to qualify for SSI you must have limited “resources.” Typically, this will mean under $2,000 in assets for a single individual and $3,000 for a married couple.  Monthly income from any source is also considered in determining whether you are entitled to SSI. Generally speaking, the more resources or income you receive, the lower your SSI check will be.  If you consistently have too many resources or income, you will not be entitled to benefits at all.

Please note: Social Security’s rules on what constitutes a resource can be confusing. For instance, a family member allowing you to sleep on her couch for a month without charging rent will often be considered as a resource to you and result in your check being reduced.  To read more about these rules, please visit the Social Security website at or Elder Law Social Security consult with an attorney.

Features of SSI

  • If you qualify for SSI, you will immediately be eligible for Medicaid (Tenncare).
  • Unlike SSDI, benefits under SSI only apply to the claimant, so children and widows are not eligible to draw off of your benefits.

Why does it take so long to get a hearing?

It is not uncommon for a claimant to wait two to three years from the filing of a claim for benefits until they see a judge.  The main reason for these delays is that the Social Security Administration has been severely underfunded over the past several years.

I am thinking of applying for disability. What can I do to help get my benefits approved?

The single biggest problem in obtaining benefits is a lack of medical documentation.  Simply put, many deserving individuals lose their cases because they do not have medical records that support the very real problems they are experiencing.  If you think you may be applying for disability down the road, the best thing you can do today is discuss your problems with your doctors and make every effort to receive ongoing treatment for your conditions.

I am receiving benefits or have formerly received benefits and I have received notice that I have been “overpaid.”  What do I do now?

You have a right to a) appeal the overpayment, b) ask that the overpayment be waived/forgiven, c) work out a payment plan with Social Security. If you don’t respond to an overpayment notice, the SSA has the right to take the money from your future benefits or seize a tax refund that you might be owed.

DISCLAIMER: The above information available through is basic legal information and is neither intended as legal advice, nor a substitute for legal advice.  No attorney-client relationship is created herein.  The content on is provided by the Jackson-Madison County Bar Association as a public service and for general information only. You should consult your attorney if you have questions concerning any specific situation. If you do not have an attorney, may we suggest that you visit our (Need a Lawyer – link) section or find a lawyer in the phone book.  The topics covered through will provide basic information and should make it easier for someone with a problem to decide whether they need professional help from a lawyer or if another agency could provide them with assistance.

A special thanks to the Memphis Bar Association for its contributions and assistance to the Jackson-Madison County Bar Association in making available this legal information.  Portions of the foregoing content have been reprinted with the permission of the Memphis Bar Association.