An Emergency Message from Social Security to its workers directs that they track cases involving COVID-19 when processing disability claims. COVID related disability claims are likely to be fairly common in the coming months or years.
Continued health problems
Most people with COVID-19 recover quickly from their symptoms with no long-term effects. However, some will continue to experience symptoms even after they have recovered from the virus. Known as COVID “long haulers,” these patients may have lasting damage to the heart, lungs, and/or brain.
Symptoms for these long haulers can vary but can include:
- Commonly - shortness of breath, fatigue, cough, and chest pain;
- Sometimes - brain fog, headache, heart palpitations, and muscle pain; and
- In serious cases - heart inflammation, lung abnormalities, renal injury, skin problems, loss of smell, and mental health issues.
COVID-19 is not an automatic qualifier for disability.
If you currently have, or have had COVID-19, that will not automatically qualify you for disability. But, if the lingering effects of the disease keep you from working, then it might. To qualify, your post-COVID symptoms plus any other diagnoses and impairments must keep you from working (your last job or other work). Moreover, that inability to work must be likely to continue for at least a year (or result in death).
Impact of the Emergency Message
For current applicants, the biggest impact of the Emergency Message is that Social Security acknowledges that COVID long haulers exist. While it stops short of expressly saying that COVID could lead to disability, it is an encouraging step.
In the short term, the Emergency Message doesn’t affect eligibility for Social Security. Instead, it directs its workers to collect information about those claimants affected by the disease. Hopefully, over the long term, these records will help show the real impact of COVID on workers.
Other Social Security COVID-19 changes
Tracking COVID claims isn’t the only thing the pandemic has altered at Social Security offices. It has affected how they decide claims and interact with claimants.
During the pandemic, Social Security offices are closed to the public. Workers reviewing initial applications and reconsideration claims are largely working from home. Hearings with administrative law judges are by telephone.
But through it all, Social Security is still processing claims, and still taking applications. You can still apply (or appeal your denial) even though the Social Security office is closed to the public.
Get tested, and follow up with treatment.
It seems likely that COVID-19 is going to impair the health of those in Alabama for years to come - even after the virus is gone or under control. If its effects continue to impact your life after the infection is gone be sure to get regular follow up with your doctor and follow their treatment instructions.
In the absence of a COVID diagnosis and medical records showing your lingering symptoms, your claim is going to be hard to prove. Two main reasons claims get denied are because of a lack of medical records to document a claimant’s health in real-time and the failure to follow a doctor’s recommendations.
So, if you get COVID-19 get tested, follow up with your doctor after the infection has cleared, and follow your doctor’s treatment plan.
Where to get help:
- If you’ve had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, review the CDC’s guidance about whether you should quarantine, and for how long;
- Need to get tested but don’t know where? Use the Health and Human Services’ tool for finding a testing site;
- Use Disability Alabama’s disability calculator for an estimate of your benefit. While you do not need any special information to complete the calculation you may want to take a moment to think about your average yearly income and current household income before using the disability calculator; and
- If you live in Alabama and want to apply for disability or have a recent denial, ask the lawyers of Disability Alabama how we can help.