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Will COVID-19 'long haulers' get Social Security Disability?

COVID-19 can cause long-term symptoms, and those symptoms can be debilitating in many cases. Jodee P., 55, of Massachusetts, for example, got COVID last May and still suffers from chronic fatigue, body pain, heart palpitations, memory problems and depression. The former director of social services for a nursing home can no longer work and has lost her job.

Yet despite the fact that she has had these disabling symptoms for 10 months, it is unclear whether she will qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

That's because it can be hard to meet the qualifying conditions for a Social Security Disability claim. In order to qualify for SSDI, a person must:

  • Have worked enough jobs covered by Social Security to qualify for benefits
  • Have a mental or physical condition that meets the Social Security Administration's definition of total disability

The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines a total disability as one where you are completely disabled from working and which is expected to last a year or to result in your death.

Jodee's "long-haul" COVID-19 condition may not satisfy the SSA's definition of disability because it is unclear yet whether the condition will last a year or longer. That is simply because it has only been a year since the first COVID cases began to appear in the U.S. The first COVID-related cases are just now being processed.

Advocates ask SSA for guidance on COVID-19

Disability activists and lawmakers have called on the SSA to study the issue of long-haul COVID-19 and offer guidance to people suffering from the illness.

Early studies suggest that there could be a lot of long-haulers. They estimate that between 3% and 5% of those who get COVID-19 will experience long-term symptoms. Over 25 million people have been infected by COVID-19 in the U.S. alone, and there will undoubtedly be more.

There are long-haulers from other viruses, too, such as Lyme disease and encephalitis. In those cases, long-haulers have an increased, long-term risk of strokes, neurodegenerative disorders and the like. It may be that the same is true for COVID-19, and that could indicate the disability is likely to last.

"We know what's coming. So, we have to make sure that we're on top of this," U.S. Rep John Larson (D-Conn.) told NPR.

NPR contacted the SSA about the question. The agency responded that its current rules should be sufficient for the evaluation of COVID-19 long-haulers, although promised to continue looking at the policies as research on the subject evolves.

Part of the calculation is that treatments are still being developed. Those treatments, if effective, could allow many long-haulers to get back to work sometime in the future.

For those long-haulers who can't work, it remains an open question whether they will qualify for SSDI. In order to find out, without direct guidance from the SSA, the only real option is to apply.

It's a good idea to work with an experienced SSDI attorney who can minimize the chance of mistakes or miscalculations from derailing your application. Get lots of credible medical evidence of what you are experiencing and try to thoroughly document what symptoms keep you from working. Then, working with your attorney, you can make a persuasive case for why you should be eligible.

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