Last month, on the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, President Joe Biden announced that Americans experiencing long-term COVID-19 symptoms could be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). At the same time, the departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Justice issued joint guidance that long-term COVID illness may be considered a disability under federal anti-discrimination laws. However, the guidance spells out that long COVID does not automatically qualify as a disability. The HHS guidance says that an “individualized assessment is necessary to determine whether a person’s long COVID condition or any of its symptoms substantially limits a major life activity.” The guidance says people with long COVID could qualify for “reasonable modifications” at work or in schools, as well as community-based resources that help with medical care and housing.
Some advocates for people with disabilities believe that Biden’s announcement will make it easier for Americans with long COVID to win Social Security Disability benefits, but that is far from a sure thing. With any impairment, it is usually not the medical condition itself that qualifies you for disability benefits, but whether due to the resulting limitations, you are unable to perform any job in the national economy, considering your age, education, and past work. To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, you must demonstrate that your long COVID symptoms prevent you from sustaining full-time competitive employment on a consistent and reliable basis. Your condition must be expected to last and keep you out of work for at least 12 months. Most of those who have long-haul symptoms haven’t met that duration requirement yet.
Because long-haul COVID is not always a disability, to be awarded disability benefits, a medical evaluation will be required to establish if an individual’s symptoms substantially limit a major life activity like employment. However, disability due to long COVID can be difficult to prove because it generally cannot be diagnosed with a single medical test. Establishing a record of debilitating long COVID symptoms over time will be the best evidence to support a disability claim. If you are a COVID long hauler, share your symptom history with your doctor so he or she can document your symptoms in your medical records. For example, if you suffer from migraine headaches, tell your doctor how often they occur, how long they last, and how severe the headaches are. Keeping track of the details of all your symptoms may be the difference between success and failure in pursuing disability benefits.
COVID-19 has not only impacted people, but organizations as well. The pandemic is causing big delays for people waiting on disability application decisions. If you are planning to file for disability benefits for any impairment (including long COVID-19) that is preventing you from being able to sustain employment, our advice is to apply as early as you can. If you want a free evaluation of your disability case, call or email us at Nash Disability Law.