More than 57,000 National Guard and reserve military members went on active duty orders to aid federal Covid-19 response efforts in early 2020, according to a Department of Defense Inspector General’s report.
While there’s no telling how many of these military relief workers may have contracted the virus, DOD case totals across all its branches (as of July 25, 2022) indicate more than 427,000 service members have contracted Covid-19 at some point.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 13 American adults who survive a coronavirus variant experience symptoms of “long Covid” or post-Covid conditions lasting three months or more after infection.
As many as 32,000 of these service members could experience “long Covid” symptoms to some extent if military outcomes parallel CDC statistics for American adults.
If lingering symptoms are severe enough to impact military coronavirus survivors’ daily lives, routines and activities, they may be entitled to VA disability benefits, according to the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020.
We talked to the Department of Veterans Affairs to find out more about Covid-19 disability claims. Here’s what you need to know.
Covid-19 VA Disability Benefit Claims
If you contracted Covid-19 on active-duty orders and continue to experience the virus’s effects, you can apply for VA disability benefits.
In an email, a spokeswoman for the VA claims department said the VA will consider disability claims from military members and veterans who:
Have chronic conditions resulting from a service-connected Covid-19 diagnosis.
Had Covid-19 and it worsened or exacerbated a pre-existing service-connected injury or illness.
Additionally, the spokeswoman wrote, veterans who did not contract the virus can file a VA disability claim for residual service-connected conditions related to the Covid-19 pandemic, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), after “treating Covid-19 patients or watching them suffer and die.”
What Do Post Covid-19 Conditions Look Like?
Scientists know Covid-19 and its variants affect the body in various ways. However, the virus’s broad effects on bodily systems make it difficult to predict its exact path of damage in every case.
According to the CDC, general symptoms of post-Covid and long Covid-19 conditions may include fatigue, bouts of fever, headaches, rashes, joint and muscle pain and worsening symptoms after mental or physical exertion.
Covid-19 cardiovascular symptoms may also persist, including difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, coughing and chest pain.
Women may experience menstrual changes, and digestive symptoms like diarrhea and stomach pain are common.
Long Covid neurological symptoms include Covid-19’s trademark “brain fog” and changes in smell or taste. Sleep problems, dizziness, depression, anxiety and pins-and-needles may also continue.
The CDC said having the virus can also exacerbate patients’ existing health conditions.
“VA understands the long-term effects of Covid-19 are still being studied, which includes awareness of long-haul Covid and post-Covid symptoms,” the VA spokeswoman wrote in an email.
“There is a wide range of new, returning or ongoing health problems that may be experienced four weeks or more after first being infected with the virus. VA must rely on the expertise of medical professionals to determine whether the chronic residual (condition) is due to COVID-19.”
When is Covid-19 Service-Connected?
The VA presumes your chronic Covid-19 condition is connected to your military service if:
- You developed Covid-19 symptoms while on active duty for at least 48 hours between March 1, 2020, and Jan. 5, 2024.
- You developed Covid-19 symptoms up to 14 days after at least 48 hours of active-duty service between March 1, 2020, and Jan. 5, 2024.
- You developed Covid-19 symptoms on (or up to 14 days after) active duty for training (ADT), Title 10 or full-time National Guard orders between March 13, 2020, and Jan. 5, 2024.
If any of the above cases apply to your situation, you don’t need to provide the VA with any additional documentation to prove service connection.
If you don’t fall into one of those categories, you might still qualify for VA benefits, the spokeswoman said. “The VA would review the veteran’s specific facts on a case-by-case basis to determine whether eligibility (for) service-connected compensation is met.”
How to Apply for VA Disability Benefits for Covid-19
If you want to file a VA disability claim for Covid-19 or a related condition, reach out to a Veteran Service Organization or Officer (VSO). VSOs understand the VA claim system and can work with the VA on your behalf.
Once you’re ready to file for disability compensation, here’s what you need to do:
- First, submit an intent to file. If you want to apply for VA disability for a post-Covid condition by mail or in person, you need to notify the VA of your intent to file. Visit a VA regional office near you to do it in person or call them at 800-827-1000. You can also complete VA Form 21-0966, Intent to File a Claim for Compensation and/or Pension or Survivors Pension and/or DIC and mail it to:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444
- Gather supporting documents. Gather any medical documentation about your condition from military or civilian doctors, including your Covid-19 diagnosis. Attach your DD-214, along with your marriage certificate, birth certificate, and birth certificates for any minor children you still financially support. Some VA benefit amounts – including disability compensation – are linked to your family status. You can give the VA permission to gather this evidence for you. However, you retain much more control over the process if you do it yourself.
- File your claim. Complete all sections of your VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits. Submit this form online, in-person or by mail at the above address. Be sure to retain copies of everything you submit.
The VA spokeswoman said applicants must identify all chronic conditions related to their Covid-19 diagnosis (or related in-service event) when filing their claim.
“Claimants may list chronic respiratory issues due to Covid-19 or permanent loss of taste due to Covid-19 on their claim form.” However, “an allegation of exposure without association to a condition is not a disability,” she said.