Veterans and service members have been no more immune than the civilian population to the many challenges, changes, and losses since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. In fact, many military personnel were sent straight to the frontline of the pandemic, particularly when the president activated National Guard troops across multiple states to support hospitals and medical facilities. The Department of Defense has also recorded more than 450,000 cases of COVID among service members.
As we learn more about its long-term effects, veterans may wonder how the VA will handle disability ratings and benefits for COVID. Understanding the VA’s current approach to COVID-19 benefits can help you receive the compensation you deserve.
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In this article about VA disability ratings for Covid-19:
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19, also referred to here as simply “COVID,” is an infectious respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. People with COVID may experience a wide range of symptoms. Some people diagnosed with COVID-19 may be completely symptom free and not realize they have been infected. Others require hospitalization, intubation, or even die due to the illness.
VA disability rating for COVID-19
The VA’s response to service-connected COVID may continue to be adjusted over the coming months and years as we learn more about it. Meanwhile, the VA has already begun to address COVID-19 in veterans as of the writing of this article.
COVID itself does not have a diagnostic code in the VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities. It is an acute illness that often lasts just days or weeks. It can only be rated based on the residual effects of the illness, which we will discuss later in the sections on “Long COVID.”
COVID-19 as a presumptive condition
Despite its lack of a designation in the Schedule of Ratings, the Code of Federal Regulations outlines how veterans can receive VA disability benefits for COVID as a presumptive condition. It applies to service members who:
- Performed active duty for at least 48 consecutive hours between March 1, 2020, and Jan. 5, 2024, and then had COVID within a 14-day “manifestation period.”
- Were on training duty under Title 10 or full-time National Guard duty for at least 48 consecutive hours between March 1, 2020, and Jan. 5, 2024, who then had COVID within a 14–day “manifestation period.”
In other words, if you were on active duty, active duty training, or in some cases, inactive duty training where COVID was “presumed to be incurred,” meet the criteria for qualifying periods, and contracted COVID within 14 days of this duty or training, the VA does not need any further proof that your service caused your COVID. It will presume the connection.
However, this presumption alone does not entitle you to disability compensation.
What is Long COVID?
“Long COVID,” “long-haul COVID,” “COVID residuals,” and “post-COVID-19” are all phrases used to describe the long-term effects of COVID-19.
While most cases of COVID-19 last between a few days and a few weeks, Long COVID symptoms continue for four weeks or more, sometimes lingering for months or even years after the initial virus is gone. Symptoms may go away and then reappear. We are still learning the full effects and patterns of Long COVID.
VA disability rating for Long COVID
A veteran with symptoms of Long COVID who meets the presumptive condition criteria outlined earlier in this article may be eligible for VA ratings for residual conditions.
The VA rates residual disabilities from an infectious disease by consulting the Schedule of Ratings “within the appropriate body system.”
You would build your case by showing:
A) You had COVID-19, and
B) You are eligible for a presumptive service connection or can otherwise prove your service caused you to contract COVID, and
C) You have a residual condition that is connected to COVID
Further, you may file a claim for a disability incurred or aggravated while receiving treatment or seeking certain services provided by the VA. This means if you believe you contracted COVID while receiving other VA medical services, you may be eligible for disability compensation.
Common COVID residuals for VA disability
A wide range of symptoms have been commonly reported by people with Long COVID, from joint pain to blood clots. VA research has even identified cardiovascular and mental health risks created by COVID. Due to the relative newness of this disease, this list as well as the VA’s approach to it may change over time.
Some frequently reported COVID residual conditions include:
- Severe fatigue
- Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and other respiratory issues
- Headaches, “brain fog”, and other neurological issues
- Loss of taste or smell
- Cardiovascular issues
- Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues
- Digestive and gastrointestinal issues
If you are experiencing any of these common Long COVID residuals and believe they are due to your service connected COVID, you may want to speak with a health professional about exploring whether the two can be clearly linked.
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Hospitalization due to COVID-19
One special case to take into consideration for VA disability benefits for COVID-19 include hospitalization due to the illness. If you were hospitalized due to service connected COVID for 21 days or more, you may be eligible to receive a temporary 100% rating for the time spent in the hospital. You may still be eligible for residual service-connected conditions after your hospitalization.
This short-term disability due to Covid should be mentioned in your VA disability claim, but it isn’t a guarantee of receiving long-term disability.
Death due to COVID-19 and survivor benefits
If you’re a surviving spouse, child, or parent of a service member who died due to service-connected COVID, you could be eligible for Dependent and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits.
However, veterans who died due to COVID may have had other service-connected disabilities that made them less likely to survive the illness. Examples may include hypertension, asthma, or cancer. In these instances, there may still be a case made for DIC eligibility.
“When a VA Regional Office tells you essentially ‘COVID killed this vet,’ that isn’t the end of the analysis,” said VA-certified attorney Zack Evans. “The condition of the body and the immune system plays a huge role in fighting this disease… What we need is to get a doctor on the case to explain to the VA how these conditions have interacted with the COVID infection.”
How Woods and Woods can help
Woods and Woods has helped thousands of veterans around the country with their disability benefits claims. Navigating the VA’s rules and understanding the best route to take to win your case can be challenging. That’s why our experienced, VA-certified team of attorneys, legal analysts, and case managers is here to do the heavy lifting.
If you are unsure how to get started on your appeal or whether you have a case, you can call us today for a free consultation. You won’t pay us a cent unless we win your case.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Yes. COVID-19 is considered a presumptive condition for many qualifying veterans who served between March 1, 2020 and Jan. 5, 2024. However, in most cases you must be experiencing residuals of COVID, also commonly referred to as Long COVID, to be eligible for VA disability compensation.
No. COVID-19 does not have its own diagnostic code. To be eligible for disability compensation benefits, in most cases you must have COVID residuals or Long COVID symptoms. These residuals would then be rated accordingly under the diagnostic codes that most closely match your symptoms.