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COVID-19 Long Haulers and Disability Benefits

As the COVID-19 pandemic enters into its second years, there are still many things that we don’t understand about the virus.

One of those phenomenon is “long haulers.” While most people who contract the virus make a full recovery after a few weeks, long haulers continue to suffer from debilitating symptoms, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and brain fog, for months after the initial infection.

Because COVID-19 is a new disease, we don’t know how long these symptoms will persist, or if long haulers suffer from a permanent condition. Anywhere from 3-10 percent of those who are infected with the novel coronavirus, appear to be long haulers.

Theoretically, this should be considered a condition that qualifies for disability. Social Security regulations define a medically determinable impairment as “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities that can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” This condition must last, or be expected to last for 12 consecutive months, in order for a claimant to qualify for disability benefits, a requirement that some long haulers are beginning to meet.

However, Social Security has been quiet about COVID-19, issuing no new regulations about how the applications of long haulers should be considered.

Anecdotally, administrative law judges seem to be more sympathetic toward claimants who have caught COVID-19, particularly those who have symptoms for months after they tested positive, but I have not yet seen a so-called long hauler receive benefits.

In the meantime, other, more established diagnoses that could be related to post-COVID infection, could help in receiving benefits. For example, Social Security may flatly reject an application for “long haul syndrome,” but if a claimant has symptoms long after an infection that have been diagnosed as COPD, a neurological disorder, or chronic fatigue syndrome, it could improve of their chances of being approved for disability.

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