For most people, debilitating COVID-19 symptoms disappear in a few weeks. But for tens of thousands of Americans, and those in the greater mid-south region, the health struggle continues for over a year. That number is poised to increase, and no one knows how high it will go. Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm, serving clients in Memphis, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, recognizes a new struggle is on the horizon…people of all ages needing to apply for social security disability due to ongoing Coronavirus illness symptoms.
A recent report from the Brookings Institution estimates that between two and four million people are out of work because of Long COVID. A study published in September by the National Bureau of Economic Research puts the number closer to 500,000. Regardless of the figure, critics say the SSA isn’t doing enough to help these individuals. “The application process is very demanding, very confusing for patients,” disability advocate Alison Sbrana remarked. “It also entirely depends on you having this substantial breadcrumb trail of medical evidence,” she added.
There’s more bad news. The pandemic extended wait times, as Social Security offices closed and did not quickly shift to remote operations. Moreover, common Long COVID symptoms, such as brain fog, make filling out online applications or spending hours on the phone with officials difficult.
Physical illnesses are only part of the puzzle. “Across the pond” in the UK, it has been documented that mental illness among workers is up 22 percent since the end of the pandemic. Millions of workers say their mental illness prevents them from working. This rising tide “makes economic inactivity a huge challenge to our future ability to deliver growth and prosperity,” observed Neil Carberry, CEO of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.
A medical condition, be it physical or mental, that prevents an applicant from obtaining, and maintaining, SGE (substantial gainful employment) is one part of a Social Security Disability claim. Usually, the medical condition must be listed in the SSD Blue Book. Usually, but not always. About half of disability claims involve a non-Blue Book “substantially similar” condition. A Heermans SSI lawyer near you is the most effective way to work around complicated claim forms, they work especially hard on your behalf to obtain benefits in these cases.
Additionally, the applicant must be unable to work in a previous occupation and unable to adjust to a new occupation. Assume Stephen, who is a surgeon, suffers a permanent hand injury in a car crash. Although he cannot be a surgeon anymore, Stephen probably isn’t “disabled” for Social Security purposes. He could most likely teach or write using his medical background.
Finally, the disability can be terminal, or, a doctor must conclude that the disability is likely to last more than one year. SSD isn’t workers’ compensation. Unlike “workers comp”, SSD benefits are unavailable for temporary disabilities. Moreover, the disability must be considered medically “severe” for twelve months. That requirement usually doesn’t mean 365 bad days in a row. However, it does mean that bad days must substantially outnumber good days.
Incidentally, some disability recipients may be required to return for a re-examinations of their disability claim – depending on the age and medical condition of the claimant. At this re-examination, the SSA doesn’t need a medical reason to deny further benefits. The SSA could also use a technicality, like failure to show up on time or failure to bring all requested paperwork, to not renew your disability payments.
Here’s what we know about Long COVID, or PCC (post-COVID conditions). In 2021, the Department of Health and Human Services added this condition to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It is also documented that Long COVID is much more common among unvaccinated individuals who get sick. People with breakthrough infections rarely get Long COVID. On a related note, individuals with serious COVID cases are more likely to suffer from Long COVID. However, that’s not always the case.
Physical symptoms include fatigue, postural hypotension (dizziness when sitting or standing), shortness of breath, and tachycardia (rapid heart beat). These symptoms make it very difficult to function at work, regardless of the applicant’s occupation.
So far, it sounds like Long COVID meets the aforementioned SSD disability qualifications. Then again, maybe not.
Statistically, as many as 30 percent of COVID patients develop Long COVID. However, many doctors define PCC as symptoms that linger for twelve weeks. That’s nowhere near the twelve-month SSD requirement.
The worst part of the pandemic is clearly over, and it has been over for quite some time. However, as of November 2022, almost 1.4 million active coronavirus cases remain in the United States. New pockets of high Coronavirus infection levels pop up nationwide every month. It’s impossible to tell how many of these individuals might be eligible for SSD benefits.
The MDI (medically determinable impairment) requirement might be an issue as well. Normally, Claims Examiners insist that applicants provide a positive SAR-CoV-2 viral test. Antibody tests, the ones usually available at those pop-up COVID clinics, won’t do. Other requirements include a positive diagnostic test, like a chest X-ray, and a current diagnosis of COVID symptoms.
Long COVID symptoms often include neurocognitive difficulties (brain fog). It’s not easy for these individuals to fulfill the growing laundry list of document requirements. As mentioned above, Claims Examiners use technicalities to deny applications whenever possible. At Heermans Disability Law Firm, we help applicants get all their ducks in a row before Claims Examiners review their cases.
Mental Health Issues
We mentioned the Social Security Blue Book above. This document includes about a dozen mental health conditions that could be disabling, if the applicant meets the other requirements. Most, like schizophrenia, are severe and somewhat rare disorders. A few are much more common and much more likely to affect workers, especially in the post-coronavirus world.
Depression is one example. To meet the MDI requirement, applicants must have at least five of the following symptoms:
- Depressed mood,
- Lack of interest in almost all activities,
- Appetite disturbance that results in weight change,
- Sleep disturbance,
- Sudden and violent mood swings,
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness,
- Difficulty concentrating or thinking,
- Decreased energy, or
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
Moreover, the depression must be disabling. In this case, the D-word has a special meaning. Usually, applicants must display certain cognitive impairments, usually an inability to understand, apply, or remember information, maintain pace, interact with others, or manage oneself. Two out of four will do.
Alternatively, the applicant could show that the condition is “serious and persistent,” a phrase which usually means severe symptoms have persisted for at least two years. The Heermans Disability Lawyers in Memphis understand that the applicant must connect with doctors who know how to evaluate mental health conditions. This can become especially important when the depression or mental illness condition needs to be diagnosed as a symptom of either Long Covid or non-Covid causes.
Mild or moderate COVID cases could cause disabling depression. Serious COVID cases could cause depression or a trauma-related disorder akin to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These requirements are:
- Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or violence (a life-threatening COVID case would do),
- Subsequent involuntary re-experiencing of the traumatic event (e.g. nightmares or flashbacks),
- Avoidance of external reminders of the event,
- Disturbance in mood and behavior, and
- Increases in arousal and reactivity (mostly hypervigilance and sleep disruption).
Applicants must have a current medical diagnosis which supports all five of these trauma-related mental illness symptoms. Additionally, mental illness must be disabling. The depression rules also apply in these cases.
If you have been seeing a doctor and suffering from Long Covid, you can contact the Heermans Disability Lawyers near you for a Free Social Security Disability Evaluation. We specialize in being strong when you have been weakened by a disability. Call or text Heermans Law Firm 24/7 at (901) 244-0057. More value added FREE information can be found in our online article library.
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