Coronavirus Related Disability Claims
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought so-called ‘normal life’ to a temporary halt. Social distancing, masking, and remote work suddenly became the norm. Although the worst appears to be over, people are still feeling the effects of the virus itself, the increased stress it caused, and its apparent aggravation of pre-existing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Consequently, we are seeing an increase in the number of coronavirus-related disability claims.
Attorney John R. Colvin is committed to helping those whose disability applications have been denied. His clients include people with various physical and psychological conditions, including those whose lives have been adversely affected by COVID-19 symptoms. He understands that being denied Social Security Disability Insurance benefits can be frustrating and stressful, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, and will help you present a strong case for the benefits you need.
The Long-Haul Effects of COVID Explained
The majority of people who develop COVID-19 have mild symptoms that disappear after a few days. Although they may still feel under the weather a few weeks later, eventually their health improves and they’re able to return to work.
Other COVID sufferers, however, experience poor health for weeks and even months after infection. Known as COVID-19 long-haulers, many of these people report long-term symptoms of severe illness such as:
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- Severe fatigue
- Loss of taste or smell
- Shortness of breath
- Impacted bodily function
- Aggravation of conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome or a mental impairment
For some COVID long-haulers, their overall condition may be so debilitating that they can’t return to work. If this happens to you, Social Security or long-term disability benefits could provide the money you need to support yourself and your family, but a lot of claims are being denied. COVID-related disabilities are so new that there are no clear guidelines in place, which is why you need a Tennessee disability lawyer to help you navigate this complicated and evolving aspect of disability law.
The SSDA and Coronavirus Related Disability Claims
In assessing disability claims, the Social Security Administration (SSA) and LTD insurance carriers use predetermined frameworks. The SSA examines the following factors in successive stages.
Step One: Are You Working?
When applying for Social Security Disability benefits, the Social Security Administration will determine if you are engaged in substantial gainful activity. If you are still working, do your earnings average more than the approved level? As of 2021, that amount is $1310 per month (or $2,190 for legally blind people). If so, you will not be considered disabled.
If you make less or aren’t working at all due to a physical or mental impairment, your claim progresses to the next stage.
Step Two: Do You Have a Medically Determinable Impairment?
In order to qualify for SSD, you must have a Medically Determinable Impairment (MDI) that has prevented you from working (or will prevent you from working) for a period of at least 12 months. The Social Security Administration will accept COVID-19 as an MDI if you can provide the following from your health care provider:
- The report of a positive SARS-CoV-2 viral test (COVID-19 testing)
- Diagnostic findings consistent with COVID-19, or
- A post-medical examination diagnosis of COVID-19 with symptoms consistent with the condition, such as fever and coughing
The 12-month requirement is complicated because not all disabled workers with long-haul COVID will have been out of work for a year yet. You will likely meet this requirement if your doctor does not expect your condition to improve enough within 12 months for you to return to work.
Your disability application goes to the next step if it meets the MDI and duration requirements.
Step Three: Does Your Condition Meet or Equal a Listed Impairment?
The Social Security Administration maintains a list of disabling conditions. Although COVID-19 isn’t included, you may still qualify for benefits if medical evidence shows that your condition meets or equals the criteria of a listed impairment. For example, you may have organ complications severe enough to meet a listing with comparable symptoms.
The SSA will move on to your relevant work experience if the medical record for your condition does not meet a listing.
Step Four: Can You Do the Work You Did Previously?
The SSA will consider the functional limitations associated with your symptoms and how they affect your ability to work. If it doesn’t appear that you can return to your previous job, the SSA will move to the final step of the assessment.
Step Five: Is There Other Work You Can Do?
The Social Security Administration will assess your impairments and determine whether you could do other work. Aside from your medical conditions, the agency will consider your age, your work experience, your education, and any skills you’ve acquired. If it doesn’t appear that you can be trained for a different career during a reasonable period of time (if at all), you will likely be ruled disabled and your SSD claim approved.
What Are Post-COVID Conditions?
Post-COVID conditions are characterized by symptoms that last more than four weeks after you were originally infected. These symptoms may be:
- Physical impairment
- Mental illness
- Cognitive impairment
- Neurological difficulties
The CDC defines three types of post-COVID conditions:
- Long COVID: Common symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, loss of smell and taste, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.
- Multiorgan Effects: COVID patients may suffer organ damage that leads to reduced functioning or even failure. Other cases have resulted in autoimmune disorders. COVID-19 also can lead to multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children, and a similar disorder has been noted in adults.
- Effects of Treatment or Hospitalization: Long-haul COVID patients who have spent extensive time in the ICU can develop post-intensive care syndrome (PICS) and experience issues related to the use of equipment like ventilators.
Your medical care provider will present you and your attorney with the medical examination and treatment records you need to pursue a disability claim.
Is Long-Haul COVID Considered a Disability?
For the longest time, it was not. Then, in July 2021, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announced that long COVID can be a disability under Titles II (state and local government) and III (public accommodations) of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made a similar statement.
In short, COVID-19 long haulers have a disability if their condition or any of its symptoms are “physical” or “mental” impairments that “substantially limit” one or more major life activities. However, this recognition is so recent that a lot of valid disability claims end up being rejected. An experienced Social Security Disability lawyer can help you protect your rights if you are wrongfully denied benefits.
Do I Need an Attorney to Apply For Disability Benefits due to COVID-19?
While you are not legally required to work with a lawyer, the reality is that your initial application has a high chance of being turned down. Statistics show that around 65% of SSD claims are initially denied. Reconsiderations – the first step of appeals – are denied in up to 85% of cases. When you take into account the fact that COVID-19 claims are uncharted territory, the likelihood of a misguided denial is even higher.
When you work with an experienced Tennessee disability claims attorney, it increases the likelihood of your claim being approved. Your lawyer will help you complete the application, work with your medical providers to obtain treatment records, and represent you during an appeal if necessary.
If you’re concerned about being able to afford a lawyer, the good news is that SSD attorneys work on a contingency basis, meaning that we only get paid if your claim is approved. This usually amounts to 25% of the past-due benefits you are awarded, up to a maximum of $6,000.
Working with an attorney will increase the likelihood of your claim being approved, and it costs nothing to find out if we can help during this difficult time.
Talk to a Lawyer About Your Coronavirus Related Disability Claim
When COVID-19 infection leaves you unable to work, you deserve help from a disability benefits attorney with the skills and resourcefulness to help you meet any challenges with your application process. COVID-19 related disabilities are a new phenomenon and filing a claim for disability compensation can be difficult.
Attorney John R. Colvin has years of experience in successfully representing SSD claimants. He cares about the future and wellbeing of his clients and can offer you the expertise and support that you need during this stressful time. To schedule a no-obligation consultation, please call (931) 962-1044 or contact us online.