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Long-haul COVID-19 is becoming a bigger disability issue

The symptoms can be maddening. Your heart races for no reason. You’re exhausted and short of breath. You’re experiencing such brain fog that you can hardly get anything done. You may be unable to digest certain foods or tolerate heat. There’s deep joint and muscle pain, chest pain, a lingering cough or more.

It has been more than two-and-a-half years since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the United States. Almost from the beginning, there were certain people who seemed not to recover fully from their initial symptoms. “Long COVID,” as it is called, can last for months or even years after a COVID-19 exposure.

In many cases, it can make it impossible to work. NPR talked to one woman who had been employed coordinating military healthcare. With long COVID, she got slowed down to the point where she was put on performance probation. After 30 days of probation, she thought she had pulled out of the tailspin, but the numbers told a different story. Her productivity was approximately a quarter of her coworkers’.

How many people are suffering from Long COVID? A recent study by the Brookings Institution conservatively estimates that about 4 million full-time workers or the equivalent are out of work from the condition.

“That is just a shocking number,” said the study’s author. “That’s 2.4% of the U.S. working population.”

Long COVID is a genuine disability under federal law

Last July, the Biden administration issued guidance clarifying that, in certain cases, long COVID qualifies as a disability for the purpose of federal disability laws. That means it is illegal to discriminate against workers because they have the condition. Also, employers must offer their employees with long COVID reasonable accommodations to make it possible to do their jobs.

The fact is, however, that employers can’t be required to provide more than a reasonable accommodation, which is something that would not cause undue expense or hardship. If the employee genuinely cannot perform their job duties, they can be fired.

Does long COVID qualify for Social Security Disability?

It’s still too new to have a firm answer, but it probably does qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) when it fully disables a person from working for a year or longer.

Being totally disabled means that you can no longer do the work you were once accustomed to doing and are unable to adjust to new work because of your disability. It means you can’t engage in substantial gainful employment.

If you are considering a Social Security Disability claim for your long COVID, we recommend working with an attorney from the very beginning. There may be unforeseen hurdles to overcome.