VA Disability Claims for Covid-19

Updated: October 13, 2022

Table of Contents

    Active-duty military service members and National Guardsmen on emergency response orders may have been exposed to Covid-19 in the line of duty.

    Some people who contract the Covid-19 virus experience lingering effects from the disease, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refers to as “post-Covid conditions,” or “long Covid.

    If you contracted Covid-19 in the line of duty and are still experiencing coronavirus symptoms and effects, you may be eligible for VA disability compensation.

    Covid-19 by the Numbers

    According to the CDC, more than 1 million Americans have died of Covid-19 as of July 2022. For perspective, that’s more than the sum of every U.S. military wartime death since the American revolution, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) count of wartime deaths.

    An additional 85 million Americans have contracted the virus and survived.

    However, nearly 40% of American Covid-19 survivors continue to reckon with long-term symptoms after their active infections have resolved, according to the CDC.

    These Covid “long haulers” can continue to experience post-Covid-19 conditions regardless of the severity of their active Covid infection, the CDC said.

    Symptoms of Post Covid-19 Conditions

    According to the CDC, long Covid-19 conditions include a range of symptoms affecting the body in different ways:

    General symptoms

    • Fatigue interfering with daily life
    • Worsening symptoms after physical or mental effort (“post-exertional malaise”)
    • Fever

    Respiratory and heart symptoms

    • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
    • Cough
    • Chest pain
    • Fast-beating heart (heart palpitations)

    Neurological symptoms

    • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (“brain fog”)
    • Headache
    • Sleep problems
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness upon standing
    • Pins-and-needles sensations
    • Change in smell or taste
    • Depression or anxiety

    Digestive symptoms

    • Diarrhea
    • Stomach pain

    Other symptoms

    • Joint or muscle pain
    • Rash
    • Changes in menstrual cycles

    You may be eligible for VA disability benefits– including VA health care and disability compensation– if you’re experiencing these symptoms after contracting Covid-19 on active duty. You may also be eligible if Covid-19 exacerbated an existing service-connected injury or illness.

    Here’s what the VA said about Covid-19 disability claims.

    Can You Get VA Disability for Covid-19?

    The VA will consider VA disability compensation under the VA rating system “if an in-service diagnosis of Covid-19 or Covid-19 vaccine results in a chronic condition,” a VA spokesperson wrote on behalf of the disability claims department.

    However, while long haul Covid-19 symptoms are more common, severe reactions after a Covid-19 vaccination are rare, the CDC said, adding that the “benefits of Covid-19 vaccination continue to outweigh any potential risks.”

    What Post-Covid-19 Conditions Qualify for Covid VA Disability Compensation?

    The VA website does not yet explicitly list recognized, compensable chronic conditions associated with the Covid-19 virus.

    “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 spokesperson wrote, referencing emerging CDC data on “new, returning or ongoing health problems that may be experienced four weeks or more after first being infected with the virus.”

    The VA said it “must rely on the expertise of medical professionals” to determine whether a chronic symptom or condition developed after Covid-19 infection.

    So, a VA clinician may examine you or request a civilian medical opinion linking your symptoms to a service-related Covid-19 infection.

    VA policies and procedures require such exams for all VA disability claims, and the VA provides them to veterans for free.

    During the claims process, you may also need to provide proof that you caught Covid-19 as a result of your military service.

    Covid-19 VA Disability

    Sailors prepare to transport a patient across the brow to the USNS Mercy hospital ship on April 17, 2020. Mercy deployed in support of the nation’s Covid-19 response efforts, and served as a referral hospital for non-Covid-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals so they could focus their efforts on Covid-19 cases. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan M. Breeden)

    Proving Service Connection for Covid-19

    A service nexus is a crucial part of any VA claim, so you must prove that you caught Covid-19 while on active duty or that the disease exacerbated another service-connected condition.

    For some conditions, the VA presumes service connection. This means VA assumes your Covid-19 chronic condition is related to your military service without additional documentation.

    You can establish a presumptive service connection to your chronic Covid-19 condition if you developed Covid-19 symptoms while on active duty or up to 14 days after a qualifying period of active duty.

    For the VA to presume service connection, you must have been on active duty for at least 48 continuous hours between March 1, 2020, and Jan. 5, 2024.

    Additionally, the VA said active duty for training (ADT) under Title 10 authority and full-time National Guard duty dates between March 13, 2020 and Jan. 5, 2024 qualify for presumed service connection.

    However, you may still qualify for VA benefits, even if your active-duty service did not occur during these periods.

    “If a veteran does not qualify on a presumptive basis and acquired Covid-19 while not serving on active duty, 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,” the spokesperson wrote.

    Can You Get an Increase in Benefits for a Covid-19 Infection?

    If your Covid-19 chronic symptoms have exacerbated another service-connected condition, you might be eligible for an increase in benefits.

    According to a VA spokesperson, entitlement to compensation for chronic residual conditions can apply to:

    • Conditions directly related to service
    • Pre-existing conditions aggravated during service
    • Secondary conditions to an existing service-connected condition
    • Service-connected conditions that increase in severity.

    Burn Pit Exposures and Covid-19

    Covid-19 infection and burn pit exposure can cause chronic respiratory conditions. Covid-19 can also worsen symptoms that occurred after burn pit exposure and vice versa.

    If having Covid-19 worsened your burn pit-related condition or a condition that falls under any of the above criteria, you can apply for a VA disability benefits increase.

    VA Disability Compensation Benefits for Covid-19 Infection

    Depending on the severity of your symptoms, the VA may assign a disability rating and provide VA health care benefits, including monthly compensation.

    If you already have a disability rating, the VA will calculate your total rating and compensation – including your Covid-19 VA disability rating – according to the combined disability rating formula.

    Your overall rating, marital status and the number and ages of your dependent children or parents will determine your total disability compensation.

    You can use our VA benefits calculator to estimate your total monthly disability compensation.

    Understanding VA Disability Ratings for Covid-19

    Individual VA disability ratings for chronic residual conditions resulting from a Covid-19 infection depend on the severity of your symptoms and how those symptoms impact your daily life.

    The VA uses the 38 CFR Book C, Schedule for Rating Disabilities to determine your benefit threshold.

    For instance, to receive a 10% rating for a mental health condition related to Covid-19, the VA rating schedule says your condition must cause “occupational and social impairment due to mild or transient symptoms which decrease work efficiency and ability to perform occupational tasks.”

    You could also receive compensation if you were not experiencing these symptoms actively but take medicine to control them.

    Claims for Conditions Related to Covid-19

    What if you suffered a chronic residual condition after the pandemic but not from having contracted Covid-19 yourself?

    As long as there is a service connection, you may be eligible for benefits.

    For example, if you’ve experienced ongoing trauma resulting from an in-service event – such as watching people suffer and die from Covid-19 – you may still be eligible to receive disability compensation, even if you were never diagnosed with a Covid-19 infection.

    “All veterans are encouraged to file a claim for service-connected compensation when they have a chronic residual condition associated with an in-service event,” the VA spokesperson wrote on behalf of the VA’s claims department.

    Covid-19 and VA Disability

    Wanda McCullough, education and employment specialist at United Memorial Medical Center, performs a fit test on Cpt. Tameka Watkins, medical surgical nurse, assigned to Urban Augmentation Medical Task Force – MEDCOM, in Houston, Texas on July 15, 2020. The UAMTF soldiers deployed to support Texas hospitals during the 2020 Covid-19 response. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Loni Ayers / U.S Army North Public Affairs)

    “Treating Covid-19 patients or watching them suffer and die may be considered as such an in-service event. Based upon objective evidence, chronic residuals such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could potentially be associated with that in-service event.”

    If you’re considering filing a VA disability claim for Covid-19 or a condition related to it, consider contacting a Veteran Service Organization or Officer (VSO). VSOs like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) have experience in navigating the VA disability claims process and work with the VA on your behalf. Here is the VA’s list of accredited Veteran Service Organizations.

    You can also contact the VA at 800-827-1000 or visit the VA website for more information.

    How to Submit a VA Claim for Covid-19

    You should file your disability claims for chronic residual conditions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic in the same way you would file any other claim.

    • First, submit an intent to file. Notifying the VA of your intent to file a VA claim establishes your effective date.If the VA approves your Covid-19 disability claim, you may receive back-pay to your effective date. If you submit your VA claim by mail or in person, fill out VA Form 21-0966, Intent to File a Claim for Compensation and/or Pension, or Survivors Pension and/or DIC.You don’t need to do this if you’re planning to file your claim online. Beginning an online application for disability benefits notifies the VA automatically of your intent to file. You must submit your VA claim within one year of your effective date.
    • Gather supporting documents. Before you file your claim, gather supporting evidence like medical records and statements from loved ones, colleagues or supervisors who knew of your illness or can explain how any resulting conditions may have impacted your daily routine, work or hobbies.
    • File your claim. You can file your claim online or deliver your completed VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits by mail or in person at your closest VA regional office.

    Address mail-in forms to:

    Department of Veterans Affairs

    Claims Intake Center

    PO Box 4444

    Janesville, WI 53547-4444

    Remember to identify all chronic conditions related to your Covid-19 diagnosis or in-service event on your claim form.

    “For example, the claimant may list chronic respiratory issues due to Covid-19 or permanent loss of taste due to Covid-19 on their claim form,” the VA spokesperson said, adding that exposure to the virus alone does not qualify for a VA rating or benefits.

    “An allegation of exposure without association to a condition is not a disability.”:

    You must be suffering ongoing medical issues due to the disease and be able to identify those issues on your claim.

    How Does Covid-19 Affect VA Disability Claims?

    In October 2021, the VA said it was working on getting ahead of over 204,000 backlogged disability claims.

    The VA attributed the backlog to several factors, including federal government operational changes during the Covid-19 pandemic.

    “While these actions were necessary to protect the health and safety of employees and veterans, they slowed the processing time for claims,” the VA said at the time.

    In the same statement, the VA announced steps to remedy the situation, including a commitment to hire and train 2,000 new claims processing employees.

    As of July 2022, the claims and benefit payment processes for VA disability, pension and education benefits were operating normally, with no ongoing disruptions due to Covid-19.

    Other VA Considerations with Covid-19

    Besides medical benefits and disability pay, you may be eligible to receive other types of Covid-19 relief.

    For example, the VA has offered several Covid-10 mortgage relief options.

    While the federal moratorium on evictions ended in September 2021, the VA’s Partial Claim Covid-19 Veterans Assistance Partial Claim Payment program and Covid-19 Refund Modification remain in effect until Oct. 28, 2022.

    Here are some other Covid-19 VA programs to keep in mind:

    VA Education and Training Benefits

    If you lost your job due to Covid-19, you might be eligible for benefits under the Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP).

    VRRAP provides veterans who became unemployed during the pandemic with education and training for high-demand jobs. The program provides 12 months of tuition and fees for eligible veterans, including a military housing allowance (MHA) at the Post-9/11 GI Bill rate.

    But, there’s one catch: you can’t qualify for VRRAP if you’re still eligible for the GI Bill or Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E). You must exhaust your GI Bill or VR&E benefits first.

    Additionally, you must:

    • Be at least 22 but not older than 66 years old
    • Not be rated as disabled because you can’t work
    • Not be enrolled in another federal, state or federal jobs program

    The VA will accept VRRAP applications until Dec. 11, 2022.

    Free Covid-19 Vaccinations and Testing

    All veterans, spouses, surviving spouses, and caregivers can receive free Department of Veterans Affairs Covid-19 vaccinations.

    You can also get free vaccinations if you qualify for the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA).

    You must meet current medical vaccine criteria, including the minimum recommended time since your last booster. Visit the VA’s Covid-19 vaccination resource to confirm your eligibility and sign up for an appointment.

    The VA also offers free VA Covid testing, including free self-test kits and diagnostic lab tests. Call your local VA clinic to find out more.

    Written by Teresa Tennyson

    Teresa Tennyson is a journalist for Veteran.com. She is a retired army officer who served in several countries in the Middle East. Tennyson has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Arizona State University and a master’s degree in business administration with a finance certificate from UCLA.

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