In December 2020, the Social Security Administration released an emergency message entitled, “Disability Cases with an Allegation of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) as a Medical Condition.” This emergency message provides instructions for processing and flagging Social Security disability cases where the applicant claims COVID-19 as a medical condition or the reviewer identifies COVID-19 as a medically determinable impairment.
Why Is a COVID-19 Emergency Message Necessary?
COVID-19, the disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was first discovered in late 2019. While we are all still learning about the potential long-term effects of a COVID-19 infection, many people are suffering from long-term health complications.
So far, we know that some COVID-19 long-haulers suffer from a post-COVID-19 syndrome which may include serious disabilities, such as neurological, cardiovascular, renal, dermatologic, psychiatric, and other medical problems. The research in this area continues to evolve, and the Social Security Administration’s handling of COVID-19 disability cases may continue to evolve as well.
Social Security Disability COVID-19 Processing and Flagging Instructions
The Social Security Administration COVID-19 flag is intended to identify and track potential CVOID-19 disability cases. Currently, there are no special processing instructions once a claim is flagged for COVID-19.
However, the Social Security Administration is flagging cases where people allegedly have COVID-19 medical conditions. The flag may not be used for any other reason related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are multiple opportunities to ensure that a COVID-19 claim is appropriately flagged. Specifically, the Social Security Administration is instructing the:
- Field Offices and Workload Support Units to add a COVID-19 flag if a person identifies COVID-19 as a medical condition in an initial claim, request for reconsideration, hearing request, Appeals Council review request, or during a continuing disability review.
- Disability Determination Services (DDS) to add a COVID-19 flag if the Field Office failed to do so or if DDS identifies the applicant as having a medically determinable impairment related to COVID-19.
- Office of Quality Review to verify that the COVID-19 flag is present, or to add a flag if it should be there but was missed by the Field Office, Workload Support Unit, and DDS.
- Office of Hearing Operations to verify that the COVID-19 flag is present and to add the flag to the appropriate processing systems at the hearing level. Additionally, the Office of Hearing Operations may add a flag if it was missed at a previous level and is appropriate to an applicant’s claim.
- Office of Appellate Operations should verify that a COVID-19 flag is in the system and may add a COVID-19 flag, as appropriate.
Claims with COVID-19 flags will help the Social Security Administration track and collect data about COVID-19 related disability claims.
What to Do If You Have a COVID-19 Disability
Right now, the Social Security Administration is flagging and monitoring potential COVID-19 disabilities.
However, if you are a COVID-19 long-hauler, you still need to prove that you have a total disability. Specifically, you will need to prove that you:
- Worked long enough to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. The exact number of work credits that you need depends on your age.
- Have a medical condition that will prevent you from working for at least 12 months or is expected to be fatal. You can prove this in a variety of ways. For example, your COVID-19-related disability may meet the requirements of a listing in the Blue Book Listing of Impairments. Alternatively, your condition may be equal in severity to a Blue Book listing or be severe enough to prevent you from working.
It can be challenging to get the disability benefits you deserve even if you qualify. You must submit a complete and accurate application for benefits with supporting medical documentation. Sometimes, you may also need to appeal an initial benefit denial.
Social Security disability guidance for people with COVID-19 may change at any time. Our experienced New England Social Security disability lawyers are monitoring the situation, and we are here to help you get the disability benefits you deserve. Please contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation in our conveniently located Natick Social Security disability office or by phone.