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Will long-term COVID-19 support disability claims for SSDI and SSI?

COVID-19 is often without symptoms or may cause only mild illness. But in about 10% of cases, the patients become “long haulers” whose novel coronavirus symptoms continue after they test negative for the virus, sometimes even for months, according to UC Davis Health.

Because the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires that a disabling condition be expected to last at least one year or be fatal, the question arises whether long-term COVID-19 symptoms in some people that keep them from working and meet this duration requirement will become eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

The answer to that question is almost certainly “yes.” We can look back for context at the evolution of disability based on AIDS, another illness caused by a new virus now called HIV. According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), SSA began awarding disability benefits based on AIDS in 1983.

Ten years later, SSA added HIV infection to the “listings” – a Listing of Impairments so serious that if a claimant has a diagnosed listing and meets or equals its required criteria (such as particular symptoms, lab results or surgical procedures), they are automatically considered disabled for purposes of SSDI and SSI.

Long-term COVID-19 symptoms

Serious symptoms that novel coronavirus long haulers may experience:

  • Debilitating fatigue
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Brain fog (problems with memory, confusion or concentration)
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Inflammation
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • And others

Subsequently developing medical conditions may include:

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) (lung scarring)
  • Depression, anxiety or PTSD
  • Myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation causing other problems like arrhythmia)
  • Congestive heart failure and other cardio problems
  • Blood clots and stroke
  • Arthritis
  • Autoimmune problems
  • Kidney diseases
  • Peripheral arterial disease
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
  • And others

Long haulers and SSDI

Because COVID-19 can cause such a variety of medical conditions, should SSA decide to make it a listed impairment, the listing may cross-reference for eligibility to listings in other body systems. We explained this approach in a blog about type 2 diabetes, a listed impairment in the endocrine disorder listings, in which the SSA refers to disability criteria in the cardiovascular listings since diabetes can cause cardiac arrhythmia (as well as other cross-references).

Even if COVID-19 does not become a listed impairment, the SSA could still find a long hauler disabled by evaluating whether they could work considering the physical and mental limitations of their impairments, age, education and work experience.