Long COVID patients struggle to access disability benefits

Brian Yost left a message on the ABC57 Sound Off inbox, complaining about issues with the Social Security administration, while trying to get disability benefits during an extended period of COVID.

While life has mostly returned to normal since the peak of the pandemic, there are still an estimated 24.8 million adults living with long COVID, according to the CDC. With symptoms including brain fog, lung problems and blood clots, the Social Security Administration has declared long COVID a disability eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

SSDI is for people under the age of 65 who are unable to work due to a disabling condition.

But as Brian Yost discovered, accessing those benefits has been as complicated as finding relief for the relatively new condition.

“Doctors can’t give me answers. They don’t have answers,” Yost said. “And you can’t be mad at them because this is all new to them, they don’t know it.”

Yost, from Mishawaka, thought it would take him a few weeks in bed before he was back to normal.

It’s been almost two years.

At 63, the long COVID forced Brian Yost into early retirement.

“In some ways, I think I could probably fight brain fog to get back to work. But physically, I’m not half the man I was anymore,” Yost said.

Nearly one in five adults diagnosed with COVID-19 still suffer from long COVID, according to the CDC.

For Yost, it caused brain fog, blood clots, pulmonary embolism and led to a constant series of blood thinners. But the pain was the worst.

“I eat a 20mg extended release morphine twice a day just so I can have a decent day. And in between I sometimes end up eating an oxycodone. Just so I can have a day where I don’t have not bad. And you have to learn, you have to learn to deal with it,” Yost said.

Yost and his wife are staying in their RV in Howe, IN for the summer. It’s turned into a de facto outpatient office, where Yost sorts through his prescriptions, schedules doctor’s appointments, and deals with the seemingly endless bureaucracy of trying to access SSDI.

“I’m still alive. Yeah, I guess it’s the silver lining. But the silver lining gets really weak when you have to fight daily just to do normal things,” Yost said.

The final hurdle for Yost from the Disability Determination Office is a mandatory “mental status exam” with a clinical psychologist. ABC57 contacted the DDB to ask what a mental exam has to do with a physical condition, and received no response.

“There are so many people here right now who are suffering like this. And our government has turned a blind eye and turned a deaf ear to this. They are hoping this will all go away, and it’s not,” said Yost.

Yost believes the Social Security Administration is delaying payment until he turns 65, when disability automatically reverts to retirement benefits.

“I honestly believe they’re doing everything they can to avoid paying me,” Yost said.

He sees the process as waiting for a cure or dying.

“Why do I have to do all this? You already declared long COVID as a disability. You already have doctors telling you that I have long COVID. So what do you want me to do? Lose a leg, losing an arm? How do I get help?”

Between 2 and 10 percent of young COVID-19 survivors, some as young as 9 years old, have persistent symptoms, according to Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health.

You can email [email protected], call Sound Off at (574) 344-5565, or fill out our online form.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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