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U.S. Disability Services Brace For Long-Haul COVID-19

Despite the end of the COVID-19 pandemic remaining entirely hypothetical for much of the world, some much-needed attention is now turning towards the population of survivors who will be suffering from lingering effects for weeks, months and years afterwards.

First observed in the initial waves of infections and recoveries, “Long-Haul COVID” is the term to describe anyone experiencing a range of new or continuing symptoms after their initial illness.

The most common Long-Haul COVID symptoms are:

-Shortness of breath/ Difficulty Breathing
-Brain Fog: Difficulty concentrating and thinking
-Chest Pain
-Stomach Pain
-Heart palpitations
-Joint Pain
-Muscle Pain
-Numbness in extremities
-Troubled sleep patterns
-Changes in period cycles
-Dizziness when standing
-Mood Changes
-Changes in smell or taste

Long-Haulers usually experience some combination of these symptoms, and it is not yet known how many of them will respond to treatment. Even the total number of people affected is only being guessed at, with a range of 10-30% of all COVID-19 patients.

At the low end of estimations, we should expect an additional 3.4 million disability cases for America alone. The duration and needs of that disability are still being discovered, but its existence is now being established with an eye towards what resources will be required in the future.

Long before COVID, the Social Security Administration (SSA) had already seen its cares and concerns tossed aside alongside its budget, which has been cut drastically in the past 10 years. 67 SSA offices have closed across the country, even as the number of beneficiaries grew by 22% over the same time period.

In short, the only real way to handle Long-COVID is by handling our long-suffering disability system.

With a system already under this much strain, with its retirement trust fund issues already in need of reform, Long-COVID is a perfect storm of reasons to make that reformation a top priority.

Recently, the Biden administration has made moves to incorporate Long-Haul COVID in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protections.

On the surface, that seems like good news and is objectively a step that needed to be taken.

However, without an appreciation for where those disability resources actually come from, and how they’re deployed, correctly identifying the disability does shockingly little to actually ease its burden on the country. We don’t need to wait to see what a huge influx of new claimants does to our SSA, because we’ve already convincingly simulated that scenario by bleeding it dry for years even as its scope of responsibilities has continued to expand.

Unfortunately, it’s a durable system that can keep going past the point of breaking because it simply breaks individuals. After so many years of operating without enough resources, any individual that gives up along the way to receiving benefits is actually *contributing to their budget.* The failure of the system to reach people in need also becomes its fail-safe for maintaining the barest of operating expenses.

That sort of framework for disability assistance is as terrifying as it is unsustainable.

Long-COVID is poised to highlight and emphasize every single loss the SSA has had to accept over the years. We aren’t ready and able to respond to this crisis, but there’s hope that we’re more willing to take responsibility for past mistakes now that we have a fresh new viral villain to blame.