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Long COVID Disability

Long-term effects of COVID-19 may prevent many Americans from returning to work

As we wind our way through the COVID pandemic, some individuals who were infected and experienced mild cases at the time of diagnosis are finding that their symptoms persist or recur long after the initial infection. This condition is now referred to as long COVID, and those who live with symptoms for an extended period of time are called long-haulers. Researchers estimate that between 10% and 30% of people infected with COVID will suffer from long COVID.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released the following common long COVID symptoms, but please note that this list is not exhaustive: headache; chest pain; heart palpitations; difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; cough; joint or muscle pain; fever; tiredness or fatigue; dizziness upon standing; loss of taste or smell; difficulty thinking or concentrating; and depression or anxiety. Additionally, people can experience long-term or permanent damage to entire organs, such as kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, and skin.

For purposes of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), which protects disabled individuals from discrimination, long COVID can be considered a disability if it substantially limits one or more major life activities. The symptoms of long COVID can make it difficult to work at all, however, and Social Security Administration (SSA) is beginning to see affected individuals start applying for disability benefits through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs.

Unfortunately, getting approved for SSDI or SSI benefits because of a COVID disability will be difficult. For one thing, disability benefits through SSA were designed for people whose conditions have lasted or are expected to last at least twelve months, and many long-haulers have not yet reached the duration requirement. Many people who contracted COVID at the beginning of the pandemic do not have evidence of a COVID tests because tests were not widely available.

Additionally, long COVID symptoms are varied and difficult to diagnose with one medical test. Since SSA’s Blue Book does not have a COVID listing, SSA will have to establish that you suffer from a medically determinable impairment (MDI). An MDI is established by lab findings, and SSA must see one of the following to prove the MDI for COVID: 1) a positive viral test for SAR-CoV-2 (not an antibody test); 2) a diagnostic test consistent with COVID; or 3) a diagnosis of COVID with signs that are consistent with COVID.

While it is unlikely that SSA will create a separate listing for long COVID, it may find that your symptoms make you just as disabled as someone who meets a listing. And even if you do not meet or equal a listing because of your long COVID, SSA will still consider whether you have any functional limitations caused or worsened by long COVID.