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COVID ‘long-hauler’? Don’t bank on disability benefits

For many people, qualifying for disability benefits is just another step in their frustrating battle with COVID.

Many patients have discovered that full recovery from COVID isn’t a given. In fact, a new study shows that roughly one-third of COVID patients are still battling symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, and loss of taste and smell after 6 months.

These patients are known as COVID “long-haulers.” And according to Kaiser Health News (KHN), there are hundreds of thousands of them worldwide. 

Many long-haulers have been able to return to work, but only by making adjustments. People manage their symptoms by working from home, cutting hours, and handing off job tasks. 

However, many had symptoms so severe they had to stop working and apply for disability benefits. 

But applying for disability benefits can be a challenge of its own.

The challenge

It’s unclear whether COVID survivors will be eligible for disability coverage now or in the future.

In general, you need 3 things to qualify for benefits, National Public Radio (NPR) reports:

  1. A medical diagnosis
  2. Evidence that the condition affects your ability to work
  3. The disability has to last for at least 12 consecutive months

Many long-haulers may not be able to meet these criteria. 

Because COVID tests weren’t widely available at the start of the pandemic, many people don’t have proof they were ever infected, KHN reports. Antibody tests, which look for past infection, can offer a clue. However, they’re not always accurate. 

Plus, many common COVID symptoms like fatigue and brain fog can’t be measured in numbers. These symptoms haven’t been clearly linked to COVID-related organ damage, either.

This means long-haulers may not be able to prove that their condition limits their ability to work. At least, not to the satisfaction of the Social Security Administration (SSA), which offers long-term disability benefits to American workers who qualify under this list of criteria

Symptoms like fatigue and brain fog can also make it challenging for people to get through the application process in the first place.

What can you do?

There’s still a lot we don’t know about COVID and disability benefits. 

But if lasting COVID symptoms are making it tough to work, talk through your options with your employer. You may be able to change your schedule, work from home, cut hours, or take a leave of absence. 

Also, check with your insurance provider. Many Americans have private disability coverage through their employer’s insurance. If that’s you, find out if you qualify for short- or long-term disability coverage. 

If you don’t have private disability coverage, learn more about SSA disability benefits here.

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