Can You Qualify for Disability Benefits Due to COVID-19?
Without question, the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has disrupted the daily life of every American. While the nation’s medical experts are learning more about this viral infection every day, we do know that COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Infected people can display a wide range of symptoms—from no symptoms at all to mild symptoms to severe illness, and tragically, sometimes it leads to a patient’s death.
But can COVID-19 be the basis for a successful disability claim? Like most legal issues, the answer is that it depends on the specific facts of the case.
Let’s take a look at the Social Security disability programs and how you can qualify for benefits. If you are unable to work due to a disabling physical or mental impairment, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has two programs which may be able to offer financial assistance—Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for those who have worked in the past and made Social Security contributions, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) designed to help those with little or no income. But to qualify for either program, you have to prove that your impairment has lasted or is expected to last for 12 months or longer. Most cases of Covid-19 only seem to last a week or two, so that wouldn’t meet Social Security’s requirements. However, it does appear that in some particularly severe cases, individuals may suffer from long-term medical issues that could qualify as severe impairments. For example, some patients with COVID-19 have developed acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) which can cause long-term health issues. Impaired lung function can also negatively affect other organs like the heart, kidneys, and brain with residual symptoms that remain after getting over the infection. Medical experts at the University of Chicago Hospital say that COVID-19 can cause neurological problems including stroke-like symptoms. “As an infection, COVID-19 can trigger inflammation in one’s body… [that] can trigger clots and plaque instability…[D]irect blood flow to the brain may be affected by clots. It’s just a part of having an infection in your body,” they say. Additionally, people who have undergone intensive medical care are at increased risk for mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.
If you are incapacitated by impairments arising from COVID-19, there are several hurdles you have to get over to be granted disability benefits. The Social Security Administration maintains a list of conditions with detailed requirements for when the SSA should find a mental or physical condition to be disabling. If an individual matches the requirements in the listings (also called the “Blue Book”) they automatically qualify for disability payments. However, because it is such a new medical condition, there is no specific Blue Book listing for COVID-19.
A second way to qualify for benefits is when a condition caused by the infection such as stroke or acute respiratory distress syndrome lines up with another listing. Specific tests ofr laboratory findings must confirm how your condition matches another listing.
There is a third way to be approved for benefits. The SSA also awards disability benefits based on how your condition creates limitations for you and interferes with your ability to work. To qualify, you must demonstrate that your symptoms prevent you from sustaining full-time competitive employment on a consistent and reliable basis, based on your age, education, and work experience, for at least 12 months or longer.
If you have multiple impairments caused by or worsened by COVID-19, you should include all of them in your application for benefits. The Social Security Administration must take into consideration all of your impairments when deciding whether you qualify for disability benefits. (For more on this subject read our blog article: Do Multiple Disabilities Improve the Odds of Receiving Benefits?)
The path to winning Social Security disability benefits can be difficult to navigate especially while living with a serious health condition. For this reason, you may want a professional Chicagoland disability attorney in your corner to help you through the process and to fight for your rights. Call or email Nash Disability Law for a free evaluation of your situation. We can help you avoid costly disability mistakes.