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It may seem like just another day at the VA Medical Center in Memphis, Tennessee, but the rules have changed there and may affect those that are at risk or have experienced the disabling conditions caused by the Coronavirus. Across the greater mid south region of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, you see signs coming down from doors and walls requiring all who enter to wear a mask or protective gear. Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm is familiar with veteran-related Covid cases. Mr. Heermans says, “our offices have responded to an increase in military veterans seeking Social Security Disability benefits due to long-term Covid related conditions.” So this brings us to wonder, how does this declaration that the coronavirus public health crisis is over, affect COVID-related cases in the Social Security Administration?

Coincidentally, officials announced the policy change one day before the three-year anniversary of the first confirmed COVID-19 case at a VA Medical Center. 857,000 veteran COVID-19 cases followed that first one. But case numbers have dropped significantly in recent months, both within the department and across the country. There were fewer than 6,000 active cases across all VA medical facilities in February 2023. That figure was down 17 percent over the previous month, and less than half the total from three months ago.

“This new policy will ensure the safety of veterans and VA health care providers, while accommodating individual masking preferences,” Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a statement. “We’re trying to be as open as possible to veteran and clinician and staff preferences alike, while aligning with Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines”, he added.

Over-the-Edge COVID

Pandemics, and their effects, don’t begin and end when bureaucrats say they begin and end. COVID victims who cannot work still face all obstacles that come with “being sick on the job” as well as the effects of not being able to work. Mr. Heermans, of Heermans Law Firm says, “what is most important though, is that you do have legal options”. 

In most cases, COVID-19 infections are not disabling. Over 80 percent of coronavirus patients have mild or moderate symptoms that don’t require hospitalization. However, a Heermans, SSI lawyer near you may still be able to apply for disability benefits in some situations, if the COVID-19 infection is combined with another possibly disabling condition.

Blue Book Equivalency

Although COVID is a recognized SSA disability, the agency has not amended the Blue Book Of Accepted Conditions to include this disease. However, coronavirus symptoms are very similar to the respiratory disorders listed in Section 3 of the Blue Book.

If a Heermans Memphis SSI disability lawyer was able to connect a Section 3 Blue Book condition, based upon the applicant’s medical records and doctors reports, in a disability benefits application, the applicant theoretically speaking, may be approved for disability benefits. But, only if the disability application review process believes these conditions are the same or equal to those in Section 3 of the Blue Book. “This is a big “ask”, as they say…saying that one thing is the same as another is a giant leap”, says Mr. Heermans. And, this is why expert representation by a social security disability law firm is so important.

Assume Ben has moderate asthma when he gets a moderate COVID-19 infection. He files an SSD application, citing an unspecified 3.02 chronic respiratory disorder (a/k/a the coronavirus infection) and a 3.03 asthma condition. 

He hasn’t been hospitalized for either condition, and his spirometry (breathing) test results are slightly above the listed forced expiratory volume (FEV1) thresholds. Therefore, neither condition is disabling, by itself.

His SSA law firm lawyer could be provided with private doctor records or partner with a medical consultant, who assesses the combined effect of these two conditions. The physician medical records or medical consultant concludes that Ben’s combined health woes push him above the 3.02 or 3.03 threshold. Therefore, Ben is potentially within the guidelines for qualifying disability benefits.

A state Disability Determination Services officer could potentially also ask for a medical consultant’s opinion. But SSA-appointed medical consultants may or may not be able to provide specific results. Frequently, these individuals are only qualified to assess certain conditions, like neurological or musculoskeletal conditions, or specialize in one area of the body and not another.

Either way, disability benefits are only available if his combined disability is expected to last at least twelve months. That requirement may be challenging to prove in a COVID-related disability application. More on that below.

Medical-Vocational Allowance

The Blue Book equivalency method is only available if all claimed conditions are Blue Book conditions. In other cases, an MVA may be available.

Fundamentally, applicants are eligible for disability benefits if they cannot work because of their medical conditions. That’s the bedrock principle of a medical-vocational allowance. To determine if the applicant cannot work, a Disability Determination Services officer, and later an Administrative Law Judge, considers many restrictions, such as:

  • Environmental,
  • Sensory (any individual visual or hearing impairments),
  • Manipulative (use of fingers and hands),
  • Mental,
  • Postural (bending, kneeling, stooping, and other such limitations), and
  • Exertional (lifting heavy objects and standing).

The SSA considers these factors to determine an applicant’s RFC (residual functional capacity). Therefore, depending on the applicant’s age, education, and work skills, inability to perform required tasks from past jobs, there might be enough evidence to get disability benefits under the SSA’s medical-vocational grid rules. 

If the grid rules don’t apply, or the applicant is under 50, the combined RFC  limitations must prevent full-time employment – even those that are considered the easiest of jobs, like parking lot attendant, hospitality greeter, or building monitor.

Standalone Long COVID

The mysterious condition known as Long COVID could also be disabling by itself. This condition has physical, mental, and emotional effects.

Many observers compare the physical symptoms of Long COVID with chronic fatigue syndrome, an equally mysterious condition that’s often disabling. In each case, symptoms include:

  • Coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing, and other respiratory symptoms,
  • Fever, fatigue, and other generalized symptoms,
  • Heart problems, mostly chest pain or heart palpitations, and
  • Digestive issues.

These physical symptoms, by themselves, could easily make finding and maintaining full-time work difficult. Long COVID also has mental symptoms, like trouble concentrating (a/k/a brain fog or fuzzy brain). Other mental symptoms may include sleeplessness and headaches.

The combination of physical and mental symptoms often causes emotional problems. People who don’t feel well often become couch potatoes and lethargic, preferring to stay home. This isolation can lead to depression, the depression worsens the other symptoms, and the downward spiral continues.

A SSI lawyer near you often receives documentation from a client’s physician or independent doctor, as outlined above, to meet the twelve-month requirement. This is because, SSD is unavailable for short term disabilities.

The VA Disability Process

A Heermans SSI lawyer near you typically guides a client and their case through 3 phases: initial DDS-Disability Determination Services review, supplemental DDS-Disability Determination Services review, and ALJ-Administrative Law Judge review. These phases can take up to 18-24 months, so it is important to seek the guidance and support of any available medical care if you are suffering from a disability. For more information if you want to apply for benefits or if your application has been denied, contact the Heermans disability lawyers near you for a FREE Disability Evaluation – call/text 24/7 us at (901) 244-0057. More value added FREE information can be found in our online article library.


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