Qualifying for Social Security disability benefits for COVID-19 may depend largely on the long-term complications that occur and how they affect your ability to work.
While many people experience a mild form of COVID-19 with few or no symptoms, more severe cases can last from two to six weeks, or longer. Yet this isn’t long enough to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
That’s because typically you have to be restricted from working by a serious medical condition that has lasted, or will last, at least 12 months to earn benefits.
However, there are some long-term complications that may occur with COVID-19. Some of the individual symptoms that can linger include: fatigue; shortness of breath; a cough; joint, chest, and muscle pain; headache; memory, concentration, or sleep problems; and more.
Other more serious potential long-term effects, according to the Mayo Clinic, include:
- Heart damage that can lead to heart disease.
- Lung damage and long-term breathing problems.
- Strokes, seizures, temporary paralysis, and an increased risk for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
- Blood clots that can damage lungs, legs, liver, and kidneys.
- PTSD, anxiety, and depression connected to use of a ventilator during hospitalization.
- Other unknown long-term effects.
These symptoms or conditions would need to fit a strict definition of disability set by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to qualify you for benefits. Here are the basics.
What Is SSDI and How Do You Qualify?
SSDI is an earned benefit when you acquire work credits. You get work credits, or “quarters,” when you earn employment or self-employment income. You can receive a total of four quarters each year.
According to the SSA, to qualify for SSDI: “Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years, ending with the year you become disabled.”
The Social Security Administration (SSA) determines disability based on whether the severity of your condition prevents you from engaging in “Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA).” Typically, your condition must either meet a strict disability listing or be determined to prevent you from doing a past relevant job or other jobs in the U.S. economy.
In most cases, you cannot be gainfully employed above the SGA monthly income level or you will be disqualified.
For 2021, you cannot earn an amount of SGA greater than:
- $2,190 for statutorily blind individuals.
- $1,310 for non-blind individuals.
Is There a Disability Listing for COVID-19?
No, there is no specific disability listing recognized by the SSA for COVID-19 and its potential long-term effects at this time.
Since COVID-19 itself is not considered a disability, contracting the virus isn’t covered under the SSA’s disability “blue book” listings, which fall into the following broad categories:
These listings are broken down into different systems and types of disorders, such as conditions which affect the musculoskeletal, respiratory, endocrine, and immune systems, as well as certain types of neurological disorders and malignant cancers.
If COVID-19 causes you to suffer a disability that will last at least 12 months and prevents you from working in the U.S. economy, which also meets one of these specific listings, then you may qualify based on that specific condition.
What If I Don’t Meet a Disability Listing for SSDI?
If you don’t meet a strict listing, you must follow the same process for qualifying for SSDI as for other types of disabilities.
You must prove that your COVID-related disability prevents you from doing the physical or mental activities (Residual Functional Capacities, or RFC) required of your past employment—up to 15 years ago.
The SSA defines RFC as “the most you can still do despite your limitations…based on all the relevant evidence in your case record.”
In most cases, you must also prove you can’t perform any employment you’re qualified for in the U.S. economy, as determined by a vocational expert.
You can prove your disability with medical records such as notes from doctors’ visits, test and imaging results, details about medications, treatments, and therapies, and written doctors’ opinions detailing how your condition prevents you from working.
What if a Loved One Dies of COVID-19?
Sadly, some who suffer the most severe cases of COVID-19 will succumb to the disease. If an individual has earned enough credits to qualify for SSDI, their surviving family members such as spouses, children, or parents may be eligible for survivors benefits.
To apply for survivors benefits, you may inform the funeral home of the deceased loved one’s Social Security number so they can report the death to the SSA, thereby automatically applying for these benefits on your behalf.
Or you may report the death and apply for benefits by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).
You should apply for these benefits as quickly as possible but no longer than two years after your loved one has passed.
If your loved one was already receiving SSDI benefits, you won’t need to apply for survivors benefits. You may also qualify for a special lump sum death payment under certain conditions.
How Can Disability Lawyers Help with Your SSDI Case?
The impacts of COVID-19 on individuals, families, and communities can be devastating. Navigating this disease while also seeking SSDI benefits can feel like quite an undertaking—especially considering most cases take months to years to conclude and will be initially denied.
A qualified disability attorney will help you medically prove your disability and go through potential appeals hearings to try to win your benefits.
In a time when finances are a concern for many Americans and their families, consulting an attorney for Social Security doesn’t have to be one of them. You often don’t pay an attorney’s fee up front, but instead will pay a set percentage of your initial back pay if you win your case. If you don’t win your case, you won’t pay.
If your SSDI claim has been denied, or you’re thinking about filing and don’t know where to start, Affleck and Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for over 40 years. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 795-4978.