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COVID-19 forces Congress to address disability benefits issues

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Last year’s arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and the thousands of patients who have suffered from its long-term ill effects have forced federal lawmakers to take a hard look at the disability benefits system, leading to potential and crucial changes.

Many of these patients, known as “long-haulers” because they suffer from persistent symptoms weeks and months after a COVID-19 diagnosis, are unable to work. As a result, they must navigate a complicated and unprecedented journey into securing long-term disability benefits such as Social Security disability (SSD). Advocates have pushed Washington to make some changes, and some are listening.

Waiting Period Getting Scrutiny

Signs exist that the COVID-19 pandemic will change how the government deals with disability services. For example, some groups have long advocated doing away with the five-month waiting period required for people approved for SSD benefits

Some members of Congress have expressed optimism about updating the SSD system. For example, a bill introduced in the past Congress never made it to a vote, but one of the sponsors – Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) – expects to introduce an updated version in the summer.

The waiting period has been so detrimental to SSD applicants, some of whom filed for bankruptcy or even died waiting to hear decisions about disability-related appeals. According to a 2020 Government Accountability Office report:

  • Roughly 48,000 people or 1.3% of SSD applicants filed bankruptcy while waiting for the government’s decision during the six-year period from 2014 to 2019
  • A total of 109,725 people or 1.2% of applicants died before receiving a benefits-related decision during the 12-year period of 2008 through 2019.

The current environment still remains uncharted territory for long-haulers who continue to suffer from symptoms such as fatigue, muscle pain, chest pain, respiratory problems and rapid heart rates. Insurance companies have not been too helpful either, claiming that sufficient evidence regarding their illness does not exist.

Hope remains as awareness of this issue continues to grow. If you are a long-hauler who has been rejected for SSD benefits, thoroughly review denial letters, understand the deadlines for appeals and request copies of your claim. It is a good idea to also work with an experienced and empathetic attorney.

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