Sometimes referred to as “long-haul COVID” or “post-COVID conditions/PCC,” long COVID is a condition in which an individual experiences long-lasting symptoms and newly developed health problems after contracting the COVID-19 virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), long COVID includes an array of continuous health issues and may last weeks, months, or even years.
People who develop long COVID face a wide range of challenges. Symptoms can be debilitating, making it difficult or even impossible to return to work, obtain new employment, or earn income. As a result, the federal government has declared long COVID to be a qualifying disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, to be eligible for disability benefits based on a long COVID diagnosis, patients must meet certain strict criteria. And new research has found that many face significant hurdles when it comes to filing for and receiving benefits.
What Is Long COVID?
Long COVID, officially known as post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC), refers to the persistent and prolonged symptoms that can occur after an initial COVID-19 infection. It occurs when individuals experience symptoms for weeks, months, or even years after the acute phase of the illness has passed.
Long COVID Symptoms
Long COVID can manifest in a wide range of symptoms, affecting various organ systems.
Common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Joint and muscle pain
- Brain fog
- Loss of taste and smell
- Mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression
What distinguishes long COVID from the acute phase is the duration and persistence of symptoms. While acute COVID-19 typically resolves within a few weeks, long COVID symptoms can persist for months or longer. Studies have shown that about 10% to 30% of people who contract COVID-19 develop long COVID.
How Long COVID Can Lead to Disability
COVID-19 has been associated with various long-term effects that can potentially lead to disability in some individuals. These effects can significantly impact daily life and require ongoing medical care and support.
Common long-term effects of COVID-19 include:
- Respiratory Complications: COVID-19 can cause persistent lung damage, leading to conditions such as pulmonary fibrosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). According to a study published in the journal Chest, around 47% of COVID-19 survivors experienced lung function abnormalities after six months, which can result in breathlessness and reduced physical endurance.
- Cardiovascular Issues: The virus may also affect the heart and cardiovascular system, leading to conditions like myocarditis, arrhythmias, or heart failure. A study published in JAMA Cardiology found that among recovered COVID-19 patients, 78% had cardiac involvement, even in those without pre-existing heart conditions. These complications can contribute to disability by limiting physical activity and causing fatigue.
- Neurological Impairments: COVID-19 can have neurological manifestations, including cognitive difficulties, memory problems, and "brain fog." Neurologic symptoms have been reported in up to 80% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, according to a study published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology. These impairments can have a significant impact on a person's ability to work, study, and carry out everyday tasks.
The long-term effects mentioned above can result in disability that affects multiple aspects of a person's life. For example, individuals with respiratory complications may struggle with exertion, experience shortness of breath during daily activities, and require supplemental oxygen. This can limit their ability to work or engage in physical activities.
Cardiovascular issues can lead to limitations in physical activity, increased fatigue, and a reduced quality of life. According to a study published in JAMA Cardiology, COVID-19 survivors had a higher risk of cardiovascular complications compared to individuals with influenza.
Additionally, neurological impairments, such as cognitive difficulties and memory problems, can hinder cognitive function, affect work performance, and impact mental well-being.
Statistics on long-term disability following COVID-19 are still emerging, but studies suggest that a significant number of individuals experience ongoing symptoms and functional limitations.
People with Long COVID Face Certain Hurdles When It Comes to Receiving Disability
The federal government recognizes long COVID as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, diagnosing long COVID poses challenges within the healthcare system. Unlike the initial COVID infection, there is no singular test to identify long COVID. These diagnostic challenges can create barriers for individuals seeking disability status.
To make matters even more challenging, two common symptoms associated with long COVID are post-exertional malaise and cognitive dysfunction, often referred to as "brain fog." These symptoms, along with others like nervous system dysfunction and respiratory or immune system issues, can be difficult to prove to insurance companies and the Social Security Administration (SSA).
One of the reasons for this difficulty lies in the nature of long COVID symptoms. They can be real but vague, and they may fluctuate in severity over time. Additionally, the persistence of the condition can vary, with some individuals experiencing periods of improvement followed by relapses.
The SSA has specific criteria for determining disability, including a requirement that the condition persists for at least a year. This can pose challenges for individuals with long COVID, as their symptoms may not consistently meet this duration threshold. Furthermore, there is typically a lengthy and demanding process to qualify for benefits, which can add to the burden for long-haulers and their advocates.
Overall, the complex and fluctuating nature of long COVID symptoms, combined with the stringent requirements for disability determination, can make it challenging for individuals to prove they are suffering from long COVID and qualify for the necessary support and benefits.
How Our Disability Lawyers Can Help
At Dabdoub Law Firm, we understand the challenges people with long COVID face. Our experienced and award-winning disability lawyers know how to present powerful, evidence-based claims to better our clients’ chances of securing the benefits they are owed.
We invite you to reach out to our firm today to learn how we can help you with your long COVID disability claim. Your initial consultation is completely free and entirely confidential.
Reach us online or call (800) 969-0488 to speak to a member of our team today.