Long COVID and Social Security Disability Benefits

Sample application form on tablet computer

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2022, the total number of COVID cases in the United States has reached almost 94 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deaths from COVID have surpassed one million. Most people who are infected with COVID recover within a few weeks. However, some individuals who have been infected with COVID have recovered from the virus but can experience long-term effects from the infection. These effects are known as post-COVID conditions or long COVID. This can occur even when a person had mild versions of the disease.

How common is long COVID?

According to the Mayo Clinic, roughly 1 in 5 people between the ages of 18 and 64 have at least one medical condition that may be due to COVID. The duration of these conditions can vary from one month to one year from the COVID infection.

What are the symptoms of long COVID?

People with long COVID have a variety of new or ongoing symptoms which can last for weeks or months after they are infected with COVID. These symptoms can worsen with physical or mental activities. Some common symptoms of long COVID include fatigue or tiredness, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, headache, cough, chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness when standing, difficulty with thinking or concentrating, joint or muscle pain, fever, depression or anxiety, or loss of taste and smell. Other symptoms are possible as well. In addition, some individuals experience damage to organs such as the skin, brain, lungs, heart, and kidneys. People who experienced severe illness requiring hospitalization may suffer from mental health problems arising from unresolved pain and fatigue or from post traumatic stress disorder after intensive care unit treatment. Additional symptoms include digestive symptoms such as diarrhea or stomach pain, sleep problems, pins and needles feelings, or changes in the menstrual cycle for women.

What does Social Security consider to be a disability?

Social Security defines a disability as a condition that lasts or is expected to last for at least one year or result in death which prevents you from performing normal work activity. Normal work activity is considered to be work earnings that rise to the level of “substantial gainful activity.” Social Security considers substantial gainful activity in 2022 to be earnings that exceed around $1350 per month in gross (not take home) pay. Social Security Disability Insurance is funded through taxes paid on work earnings. Therefore, in order to qualify for benefits, the person must also have worked and paid taxes on their earnings for at least five of the last ten years.

Social Security maintains a listing of impairments. These are severe conditions which will automatically qualify a person for Social Security Disability if the person meets the specific medical criteria outlined by Social Security. Long COVID is not a listed impairment and will not automatically qualify a person for Social Security Disability benefits. However, individuals are more likely to suffer from long COVID if they also have underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. Depending on the severity of these conditions, they may meet the criteria of one of the listed impairments. However, very few people are eligible for benefits based on meeting a listing.

What is Social Security’s process for evaluating disability?

Social Security follows a sequential evaluation process when determining if a person is eligible for benefits. First, Social Security will confirm that the person is not engaging in substantial gainful activity for at least one year (or will be out of work for at least one year). If you suffered from long COVID symptoms for a few months after infection but were able to return to work, your condition would not last long enough to meet Social Security’s requirements. Additionally, if you have experienced long COVID symptoms but have remained employed, even with accommodations, you would not meet Social Security’s requirement at this step.

Second, Social Security will confirm that the person has a severe medically determinable impairment. The condition must be established by objective medical evidence. Objective medical evidence includes diagnostic testing such as labs, MRIs, CT scans, or X-rays. In addition, the treating doctor’s observations and examination findings are taken into account when establishing the severity of the condition. Social Security will also look at what treatment has been recommended for the condition, such as surgeries, therapies, or medications. Long COVID sufferers will want to have documentation of their COVID diagnosis and ensure they are seeking consistent care from their providers. You may need to see different specialists depending on your symptoms. For example, if you are experiencing arrhythmias or palpitations after suffering from COVID, you may need to begin treatment with a cardiologist. If you are experiencing shortness of breath, a pulmonologist may be best suited to treat this symptom. Your primary care provider will be able to recommend the best providers for you to seek treatment based on your symptoms.

Social Security will review your medical records and assess your residual functional capacity. This is an assessment of how long you can perform certain activities that are required in a work day such as standing, walking, lifting, reaching overhead, and bending. This assessment will also include any mental limitations you may have, such as maintaining attention and concentration. Further, if there is a documented need for extra breaks or absences, that would be included in your residual functional capacity as well. After this assessment, Social Security will determine if you can return to your past work. If you cannot perform your past work or any other work, Social Security will find you to be disabled and award benefits.

LaBovick Law Group is here to help!

Navigating the Social Security Disability process can be incredibly overwhelming, especially if you are already battling chronic fatigue and feeling unwell from long COVID. Our team is here to help. Call LaBovick Law Group at (561) 625-8400 for a free case evaluation. Our team is ready to help you get started with receiving the benefits you deserve.

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