Can you get VA disability benefits for contracting COVID-19? The answer depends on when and where you got COVID, and how the illness affected you.
While getting COVID-19 isn't normally enough to qualify for VA disability benefits, veterans who became ill with COVID while on active duty and suffer from other medical conditions, especially 'long COVID" as a result of their exposure, may be eligible for VA benefits, including disability and medical care.
As of early September 2022, more than 450,000 military members have become ill with COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also says that nearly 20% of Americans infected with COVID also show symptoms of long COVID, this means that several thousand military veterans may suffer from long COVID symptoms.
What Is Long COVID?
Long COVID is the name given to any of several symptoms that affect those who have been ill with COVID-19 and recovered from the main illness. These new symptoms can develop anytime after the initial infection (usually within 1-3 months), they can also persist and sometimes become worse.
According to the VA, anyone who suffered from COVID is at risk for developing these symptoms, which currently include:
- Altered sense of taste and/or smell
- Tiredness or fatigue that interferes with daily life
- Nagging cough or shortness of breath
- Heart racing, skipping beats, palpitations or chest pain
- Lightheadedness, dizziness or balance problems
- Vision and memory problems or headaches
- Increased anxiety, depression, stress or trouble sleeping
- Abdominal pain or constipation
Anyone who has had COVID-19 can develop long COVID, no matter how mild or severe their symptoms were. According to the CDC, women develop long COVID at a rate nearly twice that of men.
What Military Service Qualifies Someone for COVID-Related VA Benefits?
According to Public Law 116-315, the Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020, any service member who developed COVID-19 symptoms during the following time periods may qualify for VA benefits related to their COVID-19 infection:
- Active duty of at least 48 hours between March 1, 2020, and Jan. 5, 2024.
- Up to 14 days after at least 48 hours of active duty between March 1, 2020, and Jan. 5, 2024.
- On, or up to 14 days after active duty for training, Title 10 or full-time National Guard orders between March 13, 2020, and Jan. 5, 2024.
The law says that anyone who was diagnosed with COVID-19 during any of the above periods of service is presumed to have contracted the illness as a result of their military service. That means that any long-term, COVID-related illnesses are presumed to be service-connected, without any burden of proof required of the veteran. See: Disability Compensation for Presumptive Conditions
What VA Benefits Are Available to Those Suffering from Long COVID?
Veterans suffering the symptoms of long COVID may be eligible for free health care for their conditions; they may also be eligible for a monthly tax-free disability payment from the VA.
The VA recommends that anyone suffering from any long COVID symptoms contact their medical team for assistance. Those who are not currently enrolled in VA health care should call 800-698-2411 for assistance.
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