COVID-19 has only been with us a couple of years, but it has had a devastating impact on our collective health and psyche. For some individuals, it has turned into something more than a week of being extremely sick. A person may develop a condition called long COVID-19 in which a wide variety of symptoms – many severe and disabling even alone – can stretch out weeks, months or years.
When long COVID prevents a person from working, they should consider filing an application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), an income supplement for those without adequate work histories to qualify for SSDI. But proving disability may be difficult for this condition that presents differently in each person.
Long COVID may prevent the ability to work
Long COVID is not a traditional disease. Rather, it is usually a collection of symptoms impacting a wide variety of body systems and emotional health. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many symptoms escape medical testing, making it difficult even to diagnose the condition. Sometimes people are not even aware that they ever had COVID-19 and suddenly face a mysterious combination of symptoms.
While the CDC website linked to above provides detailed information, just a sampling of potential symptoms includes:
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Shortness of breath and cough
- Chest, stomach, joint or muscle pain
- Brain fog
- Autoimmune problems
- Multiorgan effects
- Heart or neurological conditions
- Trouble with taste and smell
- And others
The Social Security Administration (SSA) must consider the combination of impairments and their disabling impact.
An attorney can make a difference in an SSDI claim based on long COVID
For anyone filing an SSDI application based on long COVID symptoms or whose application has already been denied can benefit from the representation and advocacy of a seasoned lawyer. Creating a thorough and strong medical record with the SSA is necessary to support the claim, but it will likely be a complex undertaking for long COVID:
- Because there is no test for long COVID, it may be necessary to prove each condition the person is experiencing. For example, cardiology evidence would establish heart damage or pulmonary evidence would explain breathing issues. This involves carefully cataloging all symptoms, identifying whether each has been evaluated by a doctor, arranging for medical assessments to lay the groundwork for proof of all aspects of the problem and submitting all corresponding medical records to SSA. This would be a huge undertaking for a claimant without legal counsel, especially when they are so ill.
- The lawyer can help to prove subjective complaints (those that cannot be measured in a lab test or medical scan) that SSA might otherwise dismiss as not credible. For example, symptoms like pain, weakness, malaise, dizziness, headache, fatigue, numbness and others must be carefully documented. Legal counsel can gather evidence such as affidavits from friends and family about their observations of the claimant’s subjective complaints. For example, does the person cry out in pain when they must stand or sit? Do they continually rub their arms because of numbness? Do they sleep for hours in a day or are they up at night with insomnia?
- Mental health problems require careful proof. Long COVID may impact concentration, or cause depression, anxiety, PTSD (including from time spent on a ventilator) and others. Again, extensive evaluation by a mental health professional followed by a clear and detailed medical report is important as are observations of other people. Does the person cry throughout the day? Are they unable to complete tasks or make decisions?
- Disability for purposes of SSDI requires that the disabling condition be expected to last a year or result in death. Proving this may require careful advocacy. For example, the SSA may push back if the claimant’s long COVID has periods of remission, but if the symptoms seem to always recur, an attorney can argue that this does not interrupt the year.
- And other unique issues
A lawyer can answer further questions. Early consultation is advisable, but an attorney can be brought in at any point in the process.