On March 17, 2020, Social Security Administration (SSA) closed its doors to the public and began conducting most of its operations remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic. While the advent of a vaccine has reduced the number of fatalities, some patients still suffer from lingering symptoms of the coronavirus, such as brain fog, fatigue, headaches, and shortness of breath. These individuals are often referred to as “Covid long-haulers” and have a condition called post-Covid-19 syndrome, or “long Covid.”1 The Biden-Harris Administration has declared that long-term Covid can be a disability under the ADA if it substantially limits one or more major life activities.2 As we approach the end of 2021, Social Security Administration (SSA) is seeing more claimants file for disability benefits due to Covid-19.
One issue facing Covid long-haulers filing for disability is duration. SSA requires medical documentation that the impairment last or be expected to last a minimum of 12 months.3 A distinction must be drawn between those who recover from acute Covid infection in a matter of weeks, and those who suffer long term lingering effects.
Another obstacle facing claimants who allege disability based on post-Covid-19 syndrome is the difficulty diagnosing the impairment. While a viral test can show a current infection, long-haul Covid-19 syndrome may present as a vague set of symptoms not unlike fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue. These types of conditions generally cannot be diagnosed with one medical test.
Some disability advocates are also wary of potential denials of benefits under SSR 18-3p (Failure to Follow Prescribed Treatment) for refusal to get vaccinated. However, the ruling provides an exception for good cause, and there is a difference between a vaccine and treatment.4
To date, there is little data on successful medical treatment for long-haul Covid patients.5 There is even less data available about individuals who have successfully collected disability benefits from SSA due to post-Covid-19 syndrome.
3 SSR 85-52