Does Long-COVID Qualify for Disability Benefits?
Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Long-COVID?
Author: Attorney Lonnie Roach
Though most people who have been afflicted with COVID-19 eventually recover from the virus in several weeks, others continue to experience symptoms long after their initial diagnosis. Even people who were not hospitalized or had mild cases of COVID-19 may be troubled by lingering health issues. This condition is now referred to as long COVID. In these cases, the effects of COVID-19 last more than 12 weeks and may continue several months after the initial infection. It is estimated that 10 to 30 percent of people who had COVID-19 have long-COVID. Older people and patients who have other serious medical conditions are the most likely to experience these long-lasting symptoms, but even young people and those who were otherwise healthy when infected can feel the effects of the virus months later. If you are suffering from the effects of Long-COVID you may qualify for disability benefits.
Is Long-COVID a Disability?
The most common symptoms of long COVID include:
- Breathing problems and shortness of breath;
- Chest pain;
- Joint pain;
- Muscle pain;
- Fast heartbeat;
- Loss of taste or smell;
- Problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”);
- Depression and anxiety;
- Sleep problems;
- Dizziness when standing up;
- Worse symptoms after physical or mental activities.
Though COVID-19 primarily affects the lungs, leading to long-term breathing problems, the virus can permanently damage other organs as well and increase the risk of other long-term health problems.
Other conditions which may result from the virus include:
- Cardiovascular problems. Imaging tests show that COVID-19 damages heart muscle, even in those with mild COVID-19 symptoms.
- Neurological issues. COVID-19 can affect the brain, even in young people, causing strokes, seizures, Guillain-Barre (a condition that causes temporary paralysis), and may increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Blood clots and blood vessel problems. COVID-19 can cause blood cells to form clots, leading to heart attacks and strokes and impacting lungs, liver, kidneys and legs. The virus can also weaken blood vessels.
- Multi-system inflammatory symptoms. Organs and tissues may become severely inflamed as a result of COVID-19.
- Anxiety and depression. The experience of being hospitalized and placed on a ventilator can be traumatizing and lead to post traumatic stress disorder, depression and mood problems.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome.
Contact a Social Security disability attorney at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and see if you can get disability benefits while suffering from Long-COVID. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!
Because of its persistent symptoms, long COVID-19 is considered a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 and Section 1557.
These laws protect people with disabilities from discrimination and define a person with a disability as “an individual with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual (“actual disability”); a person with a record of such an impairment (“record of”); or a person who is regarded as having such an impairment (“regarded as”).” According to the ADA, a person who has long COVID has a disability if their mental or physical condition or any of its symptoms substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include working, caring for oneself, and interacting with others.
A person with long-COVID-19 is entitled to the same protections and opportunities as any other person with a disability.
This means that businesses and state and local governments may need to allow accommodations for a person’s long COVID-related limitations. For example, reasonable accommodations in the workplace might include:
- Allowing a flexible work schedule;
- Changing job tasks;
- Providing or adjusting software or equipment;
- Providing reserved parking
- Improving accessibility to a work area;
- Modifying training materials.
Though a person who has long COVID may be entitled to certain accommodations under the ADA, they may not qualify for Social Security Disability income for various reasons.
Whether an applicant is approved for Social Security disability income will depend on the severity of the applicant’s symptoms, their functional limitations, and how long they last. The Social Security Administration defines disability as “the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, a person with long COVID must be unable to do their past job or any other job for at least 12 months.
In December 2020, the Social Security Administration issued an emergency message addressing long COVID cases and how the agency intended to evaluate this condition.
Long COVID is not a medical listing like other impairments in Social Security’s Blue Book. To be considered a disabling impairment, a condition must be confirmed as a “medically determinable impairment” or MDI, evidenced by medical signs and laboratory findings.
In cases of long COVID, Social Security must see one of the following:
- A diagnostic test consistent with COVID-19; for example, a chest x-ray; OR
- A positive test for SAR-CoV-2; OR
- A diagnosis of COVID-19 with symptoms of COVID-19.
Many patients who have long-COVID contracted COVID-19 before testing was available (or did not know they had COVID-19), and Social Security will not accept an antibody test as proof of diagnosis.
Additionally, it may be unclear when an applicant’s symptoms will resolve, so the 12-month requirement may be hard to meet. However, Social Security does consider symptoms of other medical conditions in considering the duration of an impairment, so if long COVID results in a new medical condition (like heart palpitations), or makes an existing condition (such as COPD) worse, that may help the applicant meet the 12-month requirement.
It is unlikely that Social Security will create a new listing for long-COVID, but even without a listing, Social Security may determine that an applicant is just as disabled as someone who meets a listing.
Social Security will compare the applicant’s symptoms and limitations to the criteria of any medically relevant impairment that is listed. If an applicant’s impairment doesn’t match or equal a listing, Social Security will assess the applicant’s functional limitations that were caused or worsened by long COVID. In particular, Social Security will be looking for long-term respiratory difficulties, cardiovascular problems, malfunctioning of the nervous system, muscle and joint problems and cognitive and mental problems.
An applicant will need to provide the following to Social Security:
- A diagnosis of COVID-19 backed up by signs of illness and a record of symptoms; and
- Evidence of functional limitations and how they affect their ability to work; and
- Documentation that the applicant has not been able to work, or will not be able to work for 12 months.
It will not be easy to be approved for SSDI if you have long COVID.
Individuals who have existing impairments will have the best chance for a successful claim. In the meantime, you may want to file a claim for short-term disability insurance if you have a policy through your employment. It’s also a good idea to enlist the assistance of an experienced disability attorney who can present your case to Social Security and show how and why your condition is as disabling as a listing.
Much is still unknown about COVID-19 and its long-lasting effects.
It makes it all the more important to reduce the spread of this deadly virus by wearing masks, social distancing and getting vaccinated.
In order to qualify for Social Security Disability, you will need to satisfy a few specific requirements in two categories as determined by the Social Security Administration.
The first category is the Work Requirements which has two tests.
- The Duration of Work test. Whether you have worked long enough to be covered under SSDI.
- The Current Work Test. Whether you worked recently enough for the work to actually count toward coverage.
The second category is the Medical Eligibility Requirement.
- Are you working? Your disability must be “total”.
- Is your medical condition severe? Your disability must be “severe” enough to interfere with your ability to perform basic work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, and remembering.
- Is your medical condition on the List of Impairments? The SSA has a “List of Impairments” that automatically qualify as “severe” disabilities. If your disease is not listed this does not mean you cannot get disability, it means you must prove you cannot maintain employment due to your limitations.
- Can you do the work you did before? SSDI rules look at whether your medical condition prevents you from doing the work you did prior to developing the condition.
- Can you do any other type of work? If you cannot do your prior work, an evaluation is made as to whether you can perform any other kind of work.
More details can be found on our Qualifying for Disability page.
Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.
Author: Attorney Lonnie Roach has been practicing law for 29 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion Gold rated by Martindale Hubbell. Because of his extensive litigation experience Mr. Roach is board certified from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lonnie is admitted to practice in the United States District Court - all Texas Districts and the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Mr. Roach is a member of the Texas trial lawyers association, has been active in the Austin Bar Association and is a past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Roach and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.
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