It has now been three years since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. Hospitalizations are declining nationwide, and deaths have held at roughly the same level over the past 12 months. In addition, recent figures indicate more than 100 million recorded cases of COVID in the U.S., with the number of undocumented cases likely much higher. Given these statistics, it’s likely that the virus will be around for several more years.
The virus has had different effects on different people. Some people were asymptomatic, showing almost no effect at all, while others — particularly the elderly or immunocompromised — were hospitalized. Most of the people who have contracted the virus fall somewhere in between and exhibit mild to moderate symptoms similar to a bad bout of influenza: fatigue, fever, shortness of breath, cough, runny nose, sore throat and body aches. Depending on the severity of symptoms and when they began treatment, as well as their vaccination status, most people see symptoms typically subside within two weeks.
COVID Effects Can Linger for Some Unlucky People
Not everyone is so fortunate, however. For some people who recover from an initial, acute case of COVID, additional health complications arise and persist for months, steadily wreaking havoc on their bodies. In these cases, the COVID virus is no longer active in their body (a test for the virus will come back negative), nor can they transmit it to others, yet they may be debilitated all the same. This has come to be termed as post-COVID syndrome or, more commonly, long COVID, with those who suffer being referred to as “long haulers.”
Symptoms of long COVID can be respiratory, similar to a typical case of COVID. But the underlying causes run much deeper and can possibly be permanent. For example, shortness of breath can be caused by significant scarring and other problems in the lungs, or possibly heart inflammation. Since the COVID virus affects cells in the nasal pathways, senses of smell and taste can be permanently altered or lost completely.
Some of the effects of long COVID are less obvious, but more insidious. Patients can experience neurological symptoms as well, such as memory loss, brain fog and other difficulties focusing or concentrating. Anxiety, depression and other mental health issues also are frequently reported.
Much remains unknown about long COVID, including just how long symptoms will last. It is well-known, however, that its lingering effects can have a catastrophic impact on patients, crushing not only their health, but their financial situations. In addition to the unforeseen health care costs, including recurring hospital visits to treat ongoing health problems, their worsening health may reach a point where symptoms become so severe that full- or even part-time work is no longer an option.
Much remains unknown about long COVID, including just how long symptoms will last. It is well-known, however, that its lingering effects can have a catastrophic impact on patients, crushing not only their health, but their finances. In addition to the unforeseen health care costs, including for recurring hospital visits to treat ongoing health problems, it may reach a point where symptoms become so severe that full- or even part-time work is no longer an option.
SSDI: Help for Those With a Long-Term Disability
Many people who experience disabilities such as severe medical conditions that disrupt work for months or years apply for. This federal coverage is paid for by more than 159 million U.S. workers through their FICA payroll taxes, and it provides important income after a disability occurs.
In 2022, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ruled that long COVID is a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. As of January, the Social Security Administration (SSA) had flagged about 44,000 disability claims that include some mention of COVID, though that is not necessarily the primary reason for those disability applications.
However, in many cases of long COVID, claims may ultimately be rejected because SSDI is designed for disabilities that have lasted for 12 months or longer, and many claimants simply have not been experiencing symptoms for long enough. In addition, there is no standard process for diagnosing long COVID, and the SSA has not issued specific guidance on how government officials should evaluate COVID claims.
Still, SSDI applicants who are suffering from symptoms of long COVID can drastically improve their chances of approval by observing a few simple but important steps.
Apply for Benefits as Early as Possible
To say that applying for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits is a long process is putting it mildly. New applicants who received notices in January waited an average of 218 days, according to a USAFacts report. This was the longest span in 14 years — 74% higher than January 2019 and 64% higher than February 2020, when the last pre-COVID report was issued. Pending cases also reached a 14-year high, at 974,000. So be sure to plan and budget your income accordingly.
Be Sure to Document Your Symptoms in Detail
You need to establish a detailed record of your symptoms to present as evidence of disability. Schedule regular visits with your doctor and document things like length, severity and frequency of all symptoms you are experiencing that you believe are related to your long COVID diagnosis. Ensure that your doctor has your full patient history as well.
Be Aware of Financial Criteria and Other Qualifications
To qualify for SSDI, you must meet Social Security’s criteria for disability. This includes symptoms that are so severe that you are physically or mentally incapable of working. You must also reasonably expect that your condition will persist for a year or more. In addition, your declared income must reflect that you are unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). For 2023, that means a non-blind individual must make less than $1,470 a month to qualify for SSDI benefits.
Medical researchers are still working to understand the long-term impact of contracting COVID, and the medical community will continue to learn with time. For those individuals who have been significantly impacted, it’s vitally important to access disability income through SSDI.
Engaging the services of an effective representative like Allsup can help individuals understand their options and the likelihood of qualifying for Social Security disability benefits. It’s even more important and key to getting an SSDI claim submitted quickly and properly, especially when documenting the medical effects of a COVID-related disability.
Steve Perrigo, J.D., is Vice President, Sales and Account Management, for Allsup and has over two decades of experience and knowledge of the Social Security Administration (SSA) and its programs. He joined Allsup in August 2010 and helps clients understand their options when coordinating private disability insurance benefits with the Social Security program. Prior to joining Allsup, Steve Perrigo spent 17 years with the SSA in various roles of increasing responsibility.
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