More than 7.5 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. For some, the illness has been mild and they’ve completely recovered. Others continue to deal with lingering symptoms, such as fatigue, cough, loss of smell and taste, or low-grade fever, while others still required lengthy hospitalizations.
Those diagnosed with COVID-19, particularly those who were unable to work due to being hospitalized or who continue to have mild symptoms, frequently ask whether the diagnosis makes them eligible for social security disability (SSD) benefits. The answer, unfortunately, is no.
Eligibility for Social Security Disability Benefits
The Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits program is designed to provide monthly benefits to individuals who, due to a medical condition or disability, are unable to participate in substantial gainful activity. In 2020, the Social Security Administration (SSA), which administers the SSD program, defines SGA as the ability to earn more than $1,260 per month. The disability or medical condition must also last, or be expected to last, 12 months or more, or to result in the individual’s death.
This means that SSD benefits are only paid to individuals with a long-term disability. It is unknown at this point whether and to what extent individuals who contract the virus suffer long-term health issues. As the medical profession learns more about COVID-19 and its long-term effects, it may eventually be considered a disability for SSD purposes
At this point, however, not enough is known to make that determination. Therefore, a COVID-19 diagnosis, alone, is insufficient to qualify an individual for SSD benefits. However, it may still affect your disability application in other ways.
COVID-19 and underlying medical conditions
Although a COVID-19 diagnosis alone is insufficient to qualify for SSD benefits, the diagnosis could still impact your application. We know that certain medical conditions put individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 at greater risk of becoming severely ill.
Individuals who have the following medical conditions are at increased risk of becoming severely ill and/or experiencing complications if diagnosed with COVID-19:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Heart conditions
- Individuals in an immunocompromised state due to an organ transplant
- Sickle cell disease
- Type 2 diabetes
Other medical conditions may put an individual at an increased risk of becoming severely ill if they contract COVID-19. These include:
- Cerebrovascular disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Individuals in an immunosuppressed state due to blood or bone marrow transplant, HIV, or other immune deficiencies
- Neurological conditions, such as dementia
- Liver disease
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Type 1 diabetes
All of these medical conditions are listed in the SSA Blue Book. The Blue Book contains more than 100 medical conditions that qualify an individual for SSD benefits, provided they meet specific criteria included in the listing. A COVID-19 diagnosis may make these underlying conditions worse or impart additional damage to an already weakened system.
In these situations, COVID-19 wouldn’t be the basis for SSD eligibility, but the diagnosis could help make your disability case stronger. This is particularly helpful if your medical condition doesn’t meet each of the Blue Book’s listed criteria. When a medical condition doesn’t meet the listing requirements, you can still be eligible to receive SSD benefits if your medical records show that your condition meets or exceeds a listing. This typically occurs when an individual has multiple medical conditions that, when considered together, make them unable to work.
COVID-19 and ability to work
The overall decrease in the number and types of jobs available may also potentially increase the chance that a disability application will be approved. COVID-19 has unfortunately led to massive layoffs and furloughs across multiple industries. Even as businesses slowly begin to reopen, many Americans are spending more time at home and, in turn, spending less money. This has caused many businesses to continue operations with a decreased workforce in an attempt to remain afloat. The result is fewer available jobs overall.
How could COVID pandemic possibly affect disability applications?
When you apply for SSD, a disability examiner reviews your file to determine how your disability or medical condition affects your ability to work at your most recent job. The disability examiner will review the daily tasks the job requires you to perform, and whether your disability limits your ability to perform those tasks in any way. If the disability examiner decides that your medical condition makes it impossible to perform the tasks required at your current job, she must then determine whether the condition prevents you from performing any other work.
In making this determination, the disability examiner will consider your age, education, and work experience. For example, if your employment history shows that you once worked as an administrative assistant, the disability examiner will assume that you can type, create spreadsheets, file, and answer phones. If your medical condition does not interfere with your ability to perform these tasks, your application would be denied. That’s because there are hypothetical jobs that match your skill set, your prior work experience, and can be performed despite your disability.
COVID and its impact on the economy, however, may alter that “other work” determination. Disability examiners (and administrative law judges, who hear appeals if the initial application is denied) do not live in a vacuum. They understand that although an applicant may hypothetically be able to perform other work, these “jobs” may not, in fact, actually be available. At a time when many Americans are out of work and struggling to even pay their rent or mortgage, the disability examiner or the judge may be unwilling to say that applicants can perform other work when such other work isn’t readily available.
Knowledge about COVID-19 and its potential long-term health impacts is constantly evolving. Therefore, it’s impact on disability applications is subject to change as well. An experienced social security disability attorney can help you navigate the SSD application process and present your case in the best possible light to increase the chance of approval.
An experienced social security disability attorney can help you navigate the process and gather the appropriate information to best support your disability claim. Consider the Good Law Group for your representation – call (847) 577-4476.