What COVID Long-Haulers Should Know About Disability Benefits

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What COVID Long-Haulers Should Know About Disability Benefits

As we approach the two-year anniversary of the COVID pandemic, we are beginning to understand the far-reaching physical impacts of this virus. While the effects on the healthcare system, the economy and society began immediately, other impacts are only now coming to light.  

In all of this uncertainty, one thing is certain, the symptoms and the long-term effects of COVID vary greatly from individual to individual. It is these long-term effects of COVID that are now having a very real impact on a person’s ability to return to the workforce after an infection. 

While many people who contract COVID recover and go on with their lives, others experience lingering ongoing symptoms. People who have ongoing symptoms are identified as having Long COVID or Long-Haul COVID, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Long COVID can occur even in those individuals who had no immediate symptoms or didn’t require hospitalization as a result of the initial infection. 

The CDC recognizes that people with Long COVID can experience a range of new or recurring symptoms that can get worse with physical or mental activity.

Examples of Long COVID symptoms include:

  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Problems with concentration or thinking (brain fog)
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness upon standing
  • Pins and needles feeling
  • Chest or stomach pain

These long-term and ongoing symptoms can greatly impact a person’s ability to work. Unfortunately, a person may not understand the impact of these symptoms until they attempt to return to work. 

For example, while at home, symptoms may be mild or non-existent without the physical and mental demands of work. However, a return to work exposes you to increased physical and mental demands, which can result in debilitating symptoms. Because of this, we are only now beginning to see that Long COVID symptoms may prevent someone from being regularly employed again. 

How is the Government Addressing COVID Long-Haulers that Can’t Work?

As a result, some government agencies are beginning to address this issue. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has provided guidance that COVID can be a disability under the ADA, requiring certain employers to make accommodations. While some agencies are addressing Long COVID, others have not. Notably, the Social Security Administration has not given any guidance on how Long COVID should be evaluated under its disability programs. Although they issued an emergency message to aid in identifying disability cases where COVID-19 is alleged, this identification is only for information-gathering purposes. 

While there is no guidance from the SSA, claims for disability as a result of Long COVID under either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs are viable. The symptoms of Long COVID should be evaluated no differently from many other chronic and disabling conditions.

Evaluation under either SSDI or SSI is focused on the symptoms of a disease or condition. In other words, the cause of the symptoms is not as important as how the symptoms affect a person’s ability to perform work-related activities.  Since the symptoms of Long COVID are not unique to it, SSA’s current regulations can be used to prove that a person is disabled due to the effects of Long COVID. 

If you are going to pursue a claim for Long COVID under SSDI or SSI, it is important to have an experienced Social Disability Attorney who is familiar with the regulations and how to apply them to Long COVID symptoms. 

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