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Can COVID-19 Long Haulers Get Long Term Disability Benefits?

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COVID-19 long hauler disabilityEven after the worst initial symptoms of COVID-19 have subsided, many COVID-19 patients experience lingering, often debilitating symptoms that could result in long term disability. The term “long haulers” has been used to describe those still coping with COVID-19 symptoms long after their first diagnosis. The number of COVID-19 long haulers could already be in the hundreds of thousands, as experts estimate as many as 10% of COVID-19 patients will classify as long haulers. Many may qualify for long term disability benefits.

Below we will examine the disabling symptoms commonly reported by long haulers, as well as how to determine whether you may be eligible for long term disability benefits if you are a COVID-19 long hauler.

 

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Who may become disabled due to COVID-19 long haul symptoms?

Anyone with COVID-19 could ultimately become a disabled long hauler. Evidence shows the type of COVID-19 patient who becomes a long hauler does not follow a simple pattern. Some long haulers had to be hospitalized before recovery from the life-threatening acute illness. Others had mild symptoms, or were completely asymptomatic, only to have serious symptoms emerge after they were no longer contagious. The demographics of COVID-19 long haulers are also varied. Long haulers consist of people of all ages, and includes both those who are otherwise healthy and also those with pre-existing conditions.

The long-term recurring symptoms of COVID-19 can be debilitating. Many long haulers become unable to work due to their condition. Even those who experience improvement may later report a “relapse” – showing that the nature of COVID-19’s long-term effects are serious and unpredictable.  

 

What are the disabling symptoms of COVID-19 long haulers?

The limited research into the long-term health impact of COVID-19 means little is understood of the exact cause of long haulers’ conditions. However, a wide range of symptoms have been reported by COVID-19 long haulers. These include both physical and cognitive symptoms. Many may be be disabling.

 

Physical Symptoms

Common physical symptoms reported by COVID-19 long haulers include:

    • Chronic fatigue
    • Chest pain
    • Persistent shortness of breath
    • Residual muscle and joint pain
    • Dizziness
    • Headaches
    • Erratic heart rates
    • Irregular blood pressure
    • Insomnia

Any of these symptoms, if severe enough, can cause long term disability. For example, extreme fatigue—one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19 long haulers—can make keeping up with the demands of your occupation unmanageable. You may become unable to work a regular schedule without excessive breaks. Shortness of breath, dizziness, and joint pain may make even a sedentary career – one spent behind a desk – too physically demanding.

 

Cognitive Symptoms

COVID-19 long hauler disabilityCognitive symptoms are common among COVID-19 long haulers. Such symptoms include:

    • Brain fog
    • Inability to concentrate or focus
    • Slowed processing
    • Difficulty multitasking

These cognitive issues are not unusual among COVID-19 long haulers. Body Politic, a long-term COVID-19 survivor group, conducted a survey of its nearly 4,000 members that found 85% reported cognitive dysfunction.

Indeed, brain fog is one of the most reported symptoms by COVID-19 long haulers. Often also experienced by sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia, “brain fog” is a kind of cognitive dysfunction resulting in mental fatigue. COVID-19 long haulers with brain fog find that their ability to concentrate and short-term memory have severely deteriorated due to the long-term effects of the virus. In these cases, things such as remembering names and simple directions become difficult. Some struggle to focus on tasks – even those requiring little time. Naturally, those who suffer from these types of cognitive symptoms often find themselves unable to continue working.

 

Long-Term Medical Complications of COVID-19

Beyond the lingering symptoms experienced by COVID-19 long haulers, the CDC reports that many experience more serious long-term complications. These include:

    • Cardiovascular problems (heart dysfunction/heart muscle inflammation);
    • Respiratory effects (lung function impairment/scarred lung tissue);
    • Kidney abnormalities;
    • Neurological issues (loss of smell and taste, cognitive impairment, memory loss, etc.);
    • Psychiatric conditions (depression, anxiety, PTSD)

Does long term disability insurance cover COVID-19 long haulers?

Many COVID-19 long haulers are unable to work because of their condition. The same Body Politic member survey cited above found that nearly 75% of long haulers had difficulty continuing in their jobs due to their symptoms.

Given the “newness” of COVID-19, it remains undetermined how long these long-term symptoms may last. If you are a COVID-19 long hauler, you’re likely facing a great deal of uncertainty: How long will it take to improve? What if your condition is permanent or progressive? What do you do if you can no longer work? Can COVID-19 qualify you for long term disability benefits?

Whether you qualify for long term disability insurance benefits will depend on several factors:

    • Do you have long term disability insurance through your employer or that you purchased individually?
    • Are you having difficulties with work because of your long-term COVID-19 symptoms?
    • Have you been treated by a doctor for your long-term COVID-19 symptoms?
    • Has your doctor told you that you may be unable to work due to your COVID-19 symptoms?

If you answered “yes” to the above questions, you may have a viable claim for long term disability insurance benefits.

Keep in mind that the threshold for “disability” is typically easier to meet under long-term disability policies as compared to the standard set by the Social Security Administration. Take a look at your long term disability policy’s definition of disability. At the outset of a long term disability claim, most policies only require that you demonstrate that you are unable to work in your “own occupation” – meaning that if your job demands a high level of executive function, mild cognitive impairment alone may render you disabled under the terms of the policy.

Some policies only require that you are unable to work in your “own occupation” for the life of the claim. Other policies require that after a period of time – usually 24 months – you show that you are disabled from “any occupation”—meaning any occupation reasonably suited for your education, experience, and age. Depending on the severity of your COVID-19 long hauler symptoms, you may still qualify for benefits under an “any occupation” definition.

 

How do I prove COVID-19 as a disability to my insurer?

COVID-19 long hauler disabilityLike any other medical condition, your insurer will require evidence of your long-term COVID-19 symptoms before any disability benefits are awarded. Here are some ways to substantiate your COVID-19 disability to the insurer:

 

  1. Your treatment history. Hospital records, testing results, and office visit notes from your doctor(s) documenting your diagnosis and symptoms will go a long way to substantiate your claim. Make sure to continue seeking regular treatment, and make sure that you report all symptoms you are experiencing to your doctor(s) for record purposes.

  2. A supportive doctor. If your doctor is supportive of your disability claim, ask if they will write a letter to the insurer explaining your COVID-19 long hauler diagnosis, treatment history, symptoms (both physical and cognitive), and the ways your condition impairs you from working. Your doctor’s opinion will be vital to the insurer when making a decision on your benefits.

  3. Affidavits and witness statements. You may want to write a personal affidavit outlining your work history, your COVID-19 diagnosis and symptoms, your efforts to recover through treatment, and the ways your symptoms interfere with your ability to work.   Because the long-term effects of COVID-19 are little understood, this background can be helpful for your insurer. Similarly, if a family member or co-worker is able to write a “witness statement” explaining the changes you’ve undergone since your COVID-19 diagnosis, this can also be useful for your claim.

  4. Neuropsychological Evaluation. If you are experiencing cognitive symptoms due to your COVID-19 long hauler status, undergoing a neuropsychological evaluation may be a good idea. A neuropsychological evaluation objectively measures your level of functioning in areas such as processing speed, attention/concentration, and memory. The evaluation results can provide your insurer an in-depth assessment of your cognitive impairment and how those deficits impact your ability to meet work demands.

 

How can a Long Term Disability Attorney help you?

The ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic have permeated every aspect of our lives—especially for COVID-19 long haulers. There are still many unknowns regarding the long-term health effects of COVID-19, and emerging evidence shows that even once the acute illness phase passes, complications and symptoms can still occur.

If you are looking to file a long term disability claim due to COVID-19 and its long-term effects, a disability attorney can help. Filing a claim can be a daunting and complicated process. Consulting with an experienced long term disability attorney is advised. An experienced attorney can design a personalized strategy to win your claim and ensure you are set up for success.

If you are suffering from long-term COVID-19 complications, or if you have already been denied disability benefits for COVID-19, our New York long term disability lawyers can help. Call Riemer Hess LLC at (212) 297-0700 for a consultation on your disability case.

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