Many Covid-19 survivors find themselves suffering from physical and mental symptoms for weeks or months after being infected with the virus. These patients, known as “long-haulers,” may find it difficult to continue working due to effects such as “brain fog,” fatigue, or joint pain. Inevitably, many long-haulers will need to apply for Social Security disability benefits. But will Social Security consider long-term Covid complications to be a disability?
The Social Security Administration considers a condition disabling if it prevents significant work activity, and has lasted (or is expected to last) 12 months or more or result in death. Therefore, if you have stopped working, you can qualify for Social Security benefits if you have a permanent or long-term condition that prevents you from sustaining full-time work.
The difficulty, for long-haulers, will be proving the inability to work. The disability process is particularly challenging for individuals with conditions characterized by “subjective” symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, or “brain fog,” because the presence and severity of these symptoms cannot be assessed through objective measures like diagnostic imaging or lab testing.
Social Security routinely denies benefits in cases involving illnesses characterized by symptoms that are difficult to prove, such as fibromyalgia, which is primarily characterized by symptoms of widespread pain; myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (“ME/CFS”), characterized by profound fatigue; and headache disorders. In the past decade, the Social Security Administration has implemented “rulings” which set forth guidelines for evaluating these conditions (Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 12-2p for fibromyalgia, SSR 14-1p for myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, and SSR 19-4p for primary headache disorders). In formulating the guidelines, Social Security looked to criteria set forth by organizations such as the American College of Rheumatology, the World Health Organization, and the International Headache Society. Social Security Rulings do not have the force of actual law, but they are binding on all aspects of the Social Security Administration and in all Social Security disability determinations. The rulings have helped adjudicators find basis for disability.
Although it will be quite some time before we can expect Social Security to issue any formal guidance for the evaluation of cases of long Covid, that by no means precludes adjudicators from finding the condition disabling, depending on the specific facts in individual cases. For long-haulers seeking disability benefits, it is important to consult with an experienced attorney who can provide guidance specific to the facts of their case.