Covid-19 and its Impact on the Disability Benefits System

Covid-19 and its Impact on the Disability Benefits System

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way that society operates, and now we are beginning to see its impact on the Social Security disability benefits process.  Chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, and persistent headaches are all symptoms that long-haul Covid-19 patients face. Many of those suffering from long-term Covid-19 symptoms have started to see these symptoms worsen their preexisting conditions. Researchers estimate between 10% and 30% of those who have tested positive for Covid-19 will develop long-term symptoms.[1] As the pandemic progresses, many Covid-19 long haulers are expected to apply for disability benefits alleging their long-term Covid-19 symptoms as a primary impairment.[2]

There are three main criteria needed to qualify for federal disability benefits. First, a medically determinable impairment. Second, evidence that the impairment affects your ability to work; and third, the disabling impairment must prevent an individual from engaging in work for at least 12 months. Proving eligibility for disability benefits is difficult, but for Covid-19 long-haulers there are some additional obstacles to overcome.

Long-haul Covid-19 symptoms can be vague and are not easily diagnosed with medical tests. This poses an issue for long-haulers in obtaining disability benefits. In order to be eligible for disability benefits, claimants must first establish that a medically determinable impairment exists. The best way to establish an impairment is to have documentation from medical providers. It is important to note that the wide range of symptoms that Covid-19 patients experience are not easily documented and often progress in ways that providers don’t entirely understand yet.[3] Even if an individual can prove that an impairment exists they must then show it prevents them from work and is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death. This poses another issue for long-haulers because they don’t yet have the medical evidence to prove this, since many have not yet been sick for a 12-month duration.

Many disability advocates are calling on lawmakers and the Social Security Administration to update policies and offer guidance for applicants who suffer from long-haul Covid-19 symptoms. It is likely that in the near future the federal disability benefits program will make substantial changes to address the issues that thousands suffering from long-term Covid-19 symptoms face. However, for now, it seems that those applying for disability benefits will have the burden of proving that these long-term Covid-19 symptoms have impacted them by way of worsening other pre-existing conditions.


[1]Abigail Abrams, How Covid-19 Long-Haulers Could Dhange the U.S. Disability Benefits System, Time (July 20, 2021),  https://time.com/6081876/covid-19-long-haulers-disability-benefits/

[2] Lorie Konish, What Covid-19 Long Haulers Should Know about Claiming Social Security Disability Benefits, CNBC (August 14, 2021), https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/14/what-covid-19-long-haulers-should-know-about-social-security-disability.html

[3] Abigail Abrams, How Covid-19 Long-Haulers Could Change the U.S. Disability Benefits System, Time (July 20, 2021),  https://time.com/6081876/covid-19-long-haulers-disability-benefits/

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