Long COVID Sufferers Are Seeking Disability Benefits. Will They Change the System?

For Chantelle James, a registered nurse who lives in the suburbs of Austin, Texas, the push to keep worker’s compensation and receive short-term disability benefits has been demoralizing.

In August 2020, the 43-year-old tested positive for COVID-19 and was experiencing chest tightness, coughing, congestion, rashes and balance issues. Now, months later, she still can’t fully find her footing.

“Anytime I got up, I would just kind of fall down, like I couldn’t walk straight,” James says.

A few days after her initial positive test, James, who works for health care provider Ascension Seton at a psychiatric hospital in Austin, says she requested worker’s compensation, which she received upon approval by third-party claims administrator Sedgwick, along with paid time off. Yet her symptoms persisted, even as she says she was expected to return to work without restrictions.

Per emergency room summaries provided by James and reviewed by U.S. News, James visited a hospital in August and September, twice in October, and again in November for ailments that included chest pain, rapid heart rate, dehydration and muscle spasms – all of which she says started only after she got COVID-19. But in November, a nurse practitioner at Ascension Seton Occupational Health Clinic, whom James says had to weigh in on whether she should continue receiving benefits, instead wrote that she was ready to return to work.

Afterward, James says she continued to get sick at work, was denied further worker’s compensation and is now trying to seek short-term disability.

It’s still unclear precisely how many people have the condition now called long COVID, which is characterized by persistent symptoms of illness weeks or months after an initial case of COVID-19. Concerns have warranted an initiative by the National Institutes of Health aimed at identifying its underlying causes and treatments, while support groups and clinics have cropped up to help the multitude of people suffering from it.

But for some long-haulers, including James, their symptoms have made it difficult to work full time or at all, leading them to pursue disability benefits, including worker’s compensation or Social Security disability payments. And challenges exist when it comes to accessing and navigating a system some may be encountering for the first time.

“I think part of what’s happening is a new category of folks with disabilities that are not always easy to quantify and proved are running against a culture, within the Social Security Administration, that is generally not easy to navigate for people that have disabilities that are not easy to quantify or prove,” says Andy Imparato, executive director of Disability Rights California, a nonprofit legal services organization…Read more>>