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The coronavirus pandemic was hard on everyone, especially disabled people. Persons with disabilities, especially if that disability involved a compromised immune system, were much more likely to get seriously ill. Furthermore, disabled people are especially sensitive to unemployment issues. Despite protections in the Americans with Disabilities Act and elsewhere, when a wave of layoffs hit, disabled employees are often among the first ones to go.

On a related note, Social Security DIsability applications usually increase during periods of high unemployment.

In Tennessee, COVID-19’s direct effects have ended, at least for the most part. Mandatory masking and social distancing requirements are largely a thing of the past. Furthermore, on at least three days during June 2021, officials reported zero new cases. 

However, the indirect effects will probably last for quite some time. The multi-trillion dollar coronavirus financial relief packages spring immediately to mind. There are other indirect effects as well.

If a Social Security Disability application or appeal is one of these effects, the SSI disability lawyers in Memphis at Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm are here to help. We understand that COVID-19 has erected some additional hurdles for many people. So, we take the time to thoroughly evaluate your case and lay out your legal options as we, hopefully, start getting back to normal.

Pandemic Problems

For many people, especially doctors, lawyers, and other professionals, the coronavirus lockdowns were little more than an inconvenience. For others, the lockdowns were one of the most significant difficulties they have ever faced. 

For still others, such as the aforementioned disabled employees, the lockdowns were an unmitigated disaster. Lockdowns usually preserved physical health, but they were debilitating to mental and economic health. Doctors prescribed Zoloft and other antidepressants at a record pace, especially in the spring of 2020. And, we are all intimately familiar with the economic effects.

The pandemic was also very hard on the Social Security Administration. Many federal agencies successfully transitioned to a virtual environment, at least for the most part. But the effects were much different at the SSA. 

Many SSD applicants were already dealing with significant issues before COVID-19 hit. That’s basically the reason they filed disability applications in the first place. These issues include severe physical, emotional, or other disability, low income, homelessness, and limited English proficiency. Logging onto a Zoom meeting is usually not an option for these individuals. Making matters worse, many individuals had to move during the pandemic. Others didn’t want to answer telephone calls, some because of scamming fears and others frightened of creditors.

Furthermore, the shutdown affected the way the SSA normally handles cases. Most of these individuals go to an SSA office in person. A worker gives them a to-do list, they come back about a month later, and the process repeats. COVID changed everything. Most local SSA offices were closed. Sources of medical, employment, and other records were routinely delayed as well. 

Speaking of medical records, about a third of SSD petitions involve medical consultant evaluations. The pandemic made it difficult or impossible to schedule these appointments and get to them.

As a result, between September 2019 and April 2021, the SSA’s case backlog swelled by over 115,000 cases. That backlog means an even longer and more frustrating wait for an SSD appeals hearing. Even before the pandemic, the Tennessee and mid-south SSA offices had some of the longest appeal wait times in the country.

New Applications and “Long COVID” Issues

Officials expect the backlog to get worse. In FY 2021 and 2022, they expect to see one million more applications than normal. Many of these people probably would have filed during 2020, but they did not, or could not, because of the aforementioned problems.

Other new applications are, well, new. Older adults and those with pre-existing conditions had a very hard time with COVID. Younger adults and those who didn’t require hospitalization often have issues with long COVID. These individuals usually experience the following symptoms, which can last at least several months:

  • Fatigue,
  • Difficulty concentrating (“brain fog”),
  • Headaches,
  • Sensory loss,
  • Dizziness when standing or sitting,
  • Chest pain,
  • Heart palpitations,
  • Anxiety,
  • Fever, and
  • Coughing.

The coughing is perhaps the most disturbing symptom, at least in terms of employment prospects. During the pandemic, the government amended workplace laws and allowed employers to effectively fire individuals who showed signs of illness. Those rules haven’t officially been rescinded.

The other symptoms are almost as disturbing. Today’s job market is so competitive that anyone who shows physical, mental, or other weakness could get left behind.

Currently, Long COVID usually is not a qualifying disability, since it does not last more than twelve months. But the medical science is still emerging in this area. Furthermore, some advocates are already pressing the SSA to change its rules and recognize this disability.

Building Your Post-COVID SSD Claim

The aforementioned difficulties, especially evidence collection issues, make it very difficult to obtain Social Security Disability benefits unless you work with Heermans Disability, an SSA law firm. Our attorney’s know how to collect relevant evidence, and perhaps more importantly, an attorney knows how to effectively present this evidence on your behalf.

Employment records are usually hard for individuals to obtain. Human Resources offices usually put individual requests at the bottom of their inboxes, especially if the worker left the company several months or years previously. But a letter from an attorney cannot get instant attention, especially if the lawyer subtly threatens to take the next step if necessary and get a subpoena for the requested records.

Privacy laws often impede medical records access. Most people assume they have instant access to their own records. But that’s usually not true. This information belongs to the hospital or clinic and not to the individual. At Heermans, our experienced lawyers, (SSI lawyer near me) knows how to cut through this red tape.

Frequently, the evidence to support a disability claim is present, especially since the burden of proof is rather low. But sometimes, evidence is like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They only make a clear picture if a lawyer puts them together in the right way.

For more information about the post-coronavirus disability process, contact the SSI lawyers near you at Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm. We proudly serve Memphis, the mid-south and beyond. Call  901-244-0057 or text for 24/7 service. Our online evaluation tool can help you get a timely assessment of your case, too. We’re here to help as you go through this process—contact us today.

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