• Justin S. Raines

Does long-haul COVID-19 qualify for Social Security disability benefits?

Updated: Jun 15, 2021


Daily case numbers of COVID-19 in the United States are currently falling, and the numbers of vaccinated Americans are rising. Things are certainly looking more positive than they were a year ago.


But for many, after two-weeks of initial COVID-19 symptoms, the illness entered a chronic phase, one that has persisted for weeks, months, and potentially, years.


Often, the first two weeks of COVID-19 symptoms were relatively mild, but the long-term effects are more severe.


This physical and mental illness is officially known as “long-term sequelae of COVID-19.” Previously, it was called post-acute COVID-19 syndrome and is more commonly called long-haul COVID-19.


Long-haul COVID-19 is characterized by a variety of symptoms that can affect its victims from the top of their heads to the bottom of their feet. Some people develop long-term organ damage. Others experience symptoms of chronic tiredness or fatigue, brain fog, or a chronic cough.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with long-haul COVID-19 experience any combination of the following symptoms:

· Tiredness or fatigue

· Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)

· Headache

· Loss of smell or taste

· Dizziness on standing

· Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)

· Chest pain

· Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

· Cough

· Joint or muscle pain

· Depression or anxiety

· Fever

· Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities


Can a person qualify for Social Security disability benefits based on symptoms of long-haul COVID-19?

Yes, a person with long-haul COVID-19 can receive disability benefits if the impairment prevents the person from working at a substantial gainful activity (SGA) level and has lasted or can be expected to last at least twelve months or if the impairment is expected to result in death.


The Social Security Administration (SSA) has issued policy-rulings for similar illnesses that result from the long-term effects of viral syndromes. For example, the SSA has issued a policy ruling dealing with chronic fatigue syndrome, which is associated with the long-term effects of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).


How do you prove that you have long-haul COVID-19?

Many of the symptoms of long-term COVID-19, like fatigue and brain fog, are subjective, which means they cannot be measured apart from the patient’s reports. While a doctor can measure a person’s temperature, for example, there is no thermometer for fatigue.


This can be challenging for disability claimants suffering from long-haul COVID-19 because the SSA requires that a claimant provide objective medical evidence, evidence that can be perceived apart from a claimant’s symptoms.


The SSA has issued an emergency message for evaluating long-haul COVID-19, which described the objective medical evidence that will be found acceptable in a disability case. This evidence includes a positive viral test for SARS-CoV-2 and diagnostic findings of organ damage. For example, the claimant may have a chest x-ray showing lung abnormalities.


The SSA’s emergency message goes through evaluating long-haul COVID-19 cases through the entire Social Security disability, five-step sequential analysis. It includes guidance for determining the severity of a claimant’s symptoms at step two, for deciding whether the claimant meets or equals a listing, and for deciding the limiting effects on a person’s residual functional capacity (RFC). Using the RFC, the SSA will decide whether you can return to any past relevant work (step four) or any other work that exists in significant numbers in the regional or national economy (step five).


If a person has a severe physical or mental illness or injury that prevents the person from working, including long-haul COVID-19, the person should consult with an attorney experienced in Social Security disability for help and advice proving the case.

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