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How Expert MRI’s Protocols Can Help COVID-19 ‘Long-Haulers’ Qualify for Disability Benefits

As we approach the unfortunate milestone of 30 million COVID-19 infections in the U.S. (with over 118 million cases globally at this time), reports of long-term symptoms such as “brain fog,” depression, cognitive impairments, and shortness of breath are becoming increasingly common. A recent NBC News report cited research confirming patients who are infected with the coronavirus are at risk of enduring a “wave of symptoms” that can adversely impact long-term health and well-being.

One such case, reported by NBC, involves a gentleman by the name of Kelly Marcilliat, 55, of Denver. After a COVID-19 diagnosis, Marcilliat was driving one day when he approached an intersection with a four-way stop. He had been in the same spot previously on countless occasions, but this time was different. Marcilliat couldn’t determine when it was his turn to proceed through the stop.

“I sat there looking at the intersection,” he said, “wondering, ‘What the hell do I do?'” The cognitive difficulties reportedly appeared months after the coronavirus diagnosis, “blindsiding” Marcilliat. It’s a common story that is affecting more and more people as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses.

The list of symptoms reported by long-term COVID patients (commonly referred to as long-haulers) is extensive, including everything from joint pain to memory loss to extreme fatigue. And that list continues to grow, with one report citing 98 unique long-term symptoms confirmed by COVID long-haulers. Many of these symptoms can be debilitating, leaving millions of formerly healthy people with immediate and life-altering consequences. Thousands of long-haulers are now unable to work, leaving them vulnerable and in need of assistance. Accordingly, post-COVID long-haulers are wondering whether they may qualify for disability benefits.

Are post-acute COVID-19 long-haulers eligible for disability benefits?

National Public Radio (NPR) recently published an article examining the notion of classifying post-acute COVID-19 syndrome as a disability. The piece featured a patient from Massachusetts, Jodee Pineau-Chaisson, who contracted the coronavirus while working at a nursing home at the beginning of the pandemic. The 55-year-old woman described how, 10 months after the diagnosis, she continues to suffer from numerous health issues.

“Sometimes it can even be hard to walk up the stairs to my bedroom,” she told NPR, noting that she suffers from memory problems, body pain, heart palpitations, depression, and chronic fatigue. Like other long-haulers, Pineau-Chaisson was perfectly healthy prior to the COVID-19 infection. With millions of Americans contracting the virus, the question of whether or not long-haulers will qualify for disability benefits has been pushed to the fore. Moreover, what might the potential ramifications of a long-term COVID-19 disability benefits program entail? These are questions disability advocates and health care professionals are carefully considering.

As NPR reports, both disability advocates and lawmakers are pushing the Social Security Administration (SSA) to study the matter, encouraging updated policies and eventual guidance to be made available for applicants.

“If we end up with a million people with ongoing symptoms that are debilitating, that is a tremendous burden for each of those individuals, but also for our health care system and our society,” says physician and professor of family medicine and community health at University of Massachusetts Medical School, Dr. Steven Martin.

“We know what’s coming. So, we have to make sure that we’re on top of this,” says U.S. Representative John Larson, a Democrat from Connecticut. Larson, together with another member of Congress, wrote a letter asking the SSA to work with scientists to understand what types of support long-haulers might require.

After two hospitalizations and taking 12 weeks off of work under the Family and Medical Leave Act, Jodee Pineau-Chaisson was fired by the nursing home where she contracted COVID-19. She decided to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and underwent a neurological examination to accompany her application. Most workers contribute to the SSDI fund via a payroll tax. In the event that you ever become too disabled to work due to a medical ailment or injury, SSDI can provide monthly checks. However, criteria for SSDI acceptance are reportedly quite strict, and the majority of applicants are actually denied. Many people resort to hiring an attorney to help with the appeal process after an initial SSDI rejection.

“They said it could take two weeks to 10 months — and many times they’ll deny you the first time,” Pineau-Chaisson told NPR. 10 months is a long time, and thousands of COVID long-haulers need assistance now. But if (and when) the federal government even recognizes post-acute COVID-19 syndrome as a disability eligible for benefits remains uncertain.

“That’s the question on everyone’s mind, but it’s not clear whether long-haulers will even be able to qualify. It’s an urgent issue, but sadly I think it’s going to take a good amount of time before we have any real clarity and those deserving disability benefits start receiving checks,” says Sam Dordulian, a personal injury attorney in Los Angeles.

Linda Landry, an attorney at the Disability Law Center in Massachusetts, told NPR that long-haulers will likely qualify for protections under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Qualification under the ADA would provide access to housing accommodations and other government services, but federal disability benefit qualification remains an unknown.

Landry outlined three criteria to NPR that would impact whether or not a COVID long-hauler would qualify for disability benefits. Those criteria include:

  1. A medical diagnosis
  2. Evidence that long-term COVID-19 symptoms are directly responsibly for a patient’s inability to work
  3. Evidence that the disability is ongoing (i.e. it will “last for a while”) The requirement is that “you have to have had or are likely to have a condition that affects your ability to work for 12 consecutive months,” Landry told NPR. But COVID-19 has only been recognized as a disease – ever-changing and evolving at that – for about a year. Landry, therefore, recommends that the SSA provide “specialized guidance about COVID-19, similar to guidance the agency has released in the past for applicants suffering from debilitating headaches or fibromyalgia.”

What is post-COVID brain fog?

Brain fog is a common symptom reported by COVID long-haulers which can manifest in a number of ways, including confusion, difficulty concentrating, trouble thinking, short-term memory loss, and even delirium and psychosis in the most extreme cases. Good Morning America recently reported that although scientists are not currently able to say with any certainty what causes brain fog, they are beginning to develop theories.

According to the GMA report, “scientists increasingly believe brain fog happens when cells that are involved in response to an infection make their way to atypical places, such as the brain.” While conducting autopsies on brains of COVID victims, a key finding emerged for researchers. They discovered “certain cells that shouldn’t have been there.”

According to the report, these large cells, known as megakaryocytes, “might be taking up precious space, leaving less room for blood to pass to the brain.”

Moreover, this phenomenon might be unique to COVID patients, according to David Nauen, MD, PH.D, a professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“To have megakaryocytes in the brain has never been seen before, I couldn’t find any reference in my search this past summer with megakaryocytes noted in human brain capillaries. This is very new for COVID that they are doing this,” Nauen told ABC News. “This could help us bring up a better picture of what’s going on,” he added.

The GMA report went on to note that if these “massive cells” are blocking blood to the brain of a post-COVID patient, it would starve that brain of ample oxygen and nutrients which are critical in order to operate at “full capacity.” With brain fog being so commonly reported by COVID long-haulers, other scientists have developed theories that
may add to Dr. Nauen’s findings.

As GMA reports, Adrienne A. Boire, MD, PhD – a Neuro-Oncologist & Neurologist at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center – asserts that “people who experience brain fog may have inflammation in the brain evidenced by a protein called ‘cytokines’ swirling around the tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.” Cytokine proteins are typically associated with the immune system, and their development can lead to inflammation that can damage vital organs. Researchers such as Dr. Boire confirm they are finding these proteins in post-COVID patients’ cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

“We did find a large influx of cytokines in the CSF. Cytokines are small proteins that cells use to communicate with each other,” Dr. Boire told ABC News. The GMA report also notes that because severe COVID infections are known to cause inflammation in the body, it’s possible that this process is actually causing inflammation in the brain, which then causes abnormal brain function.

Expert MRI’s post-COVID MRI brain scan protocol can help in assessing the extent of any damage or inflammation to the brain that may have been caused due to coronavirus complications. If you are suffering from brain fog symptoms following a COVID-19 infection, you may wish to consider undergoing an MRI brain scan.

Expert MRI’s post-COVID MRI and CT protocols

Whether you’re considering applying for disability benefits or simply wish to find answers regarding your long-term post-acute COVID-19 syndrome symptoms, our MRI brain and CT lung/chest testing protocols can help.

For those applying for disability benefits, providing as much medical documentation as possible related to your particular symptoms will only help to strengthen your case. Symptoms such as brain fog, depression, memory loss, and trouble concentrating may be the result of any number of post-COVID complications. An MRI brain scan, part of Expert MRI’s post-COVID testing protocols, can aid in diagnosing and ultimately managing these issues. A proper diagnosis through an MRI is evidence that can be included in an application for disability benefits.

Additionally, COVID long-haulers experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, heart palpitations, or chest pain may benefit from our post-COVID CT protocols. By undergoing an Expert MRI post-COVID CT lung/chest scan, patients can gain insight into the extent of any damage or inflammation sustained as a result of the initial coronavirus infection. Again, a CT scan may not only offer a diagnosis, it can serve as documentation and evidence to be presented in a disability benefit application.

Furthermore, for patients who have already applied for and been denied disability benefits, including additional medical documentation from diagnostics tests like our post-COVID MRI brain and CT lung/chest scans in an appeal could be beneficial. Applying for disability benefits can be an arduous process, but obtaining medical documentation to support your claim can significantly increase the likelihood of success.

Questions remain for COVID long-haulers

With COVID-19 being such a new phenomenon, patients afflicted with long-term symptoms currently have more questions than answers regarding a prognosis for their future health and well-being. Expert MRI’s post-COVID protocols are available to help shed light on your condition. Our services can offer a diagnosis that can aid in identifying options for managing and ultimately improving any number of related ailments.

If you are interested in learning more about Expert MRI’s post-COVID protocols or would like to schedule an appointment for an MRI brain or CT lung/chest scan, contact us online or by phone at 877-MRI-8888. Expert MRI is California’s leading medical diagnostics company, providing state-of-the-art facilities with cutting-edge technology that aids in diagnosing myriad ailments, including post-acute COVID-19 long-term symptoms.

If you’re struggling with post-COVID symptoms and would like answers regarding the extent of your condition, Expert MRI offers a number of options that may provide clarity. Contact us today to learn more.