Transcription provided by eCourt Reporters.
JOHN MERCURE: I’m John Mercure, welcome to the Sunday Sip. We’re joined by our friend Lauren Zwirlein, attorney at Tabak Law.
Thank you so much for being with us, Lauren.
LAUREN ZWIRLEIN: Thanks for having me.
JOHN MERCURE: First off, thank you for what you do. You guys do a lot of stuff for our veterans, you do a lot for different groups in our community. Thank you for standing up especially during these tough times.
LAUREN ZWIRLEIN: Yeah, well, that’s what we’re here for. We want to help others and be good stewards in our community.
JOHN MERCURE: Speaking of tough times, a lot of people have questions related to COVID‑19 and how that plays out in their daily lives. And I guess the first question would be, can a person who gets COVID‑19 receive social security disability?
LAUREN ZWIRLEIN: So, one of the requirements under social security laws is that you have a condition that has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months. COVID is pretty new, obviously, in the world and so we’re still learning about it, but most people are probably going to recover within that 12‑month time frame. Social security disability comes into play if somebody develops ongoing problems, you know, like lung damage, for example, that would be then something that social security might consider a disabling impairment.
JOHN MERCURE: So, this ties into that, Lauren, but quarantining is usually short‑term, it’s a couple of weeks sometimes a little longer in some instances. Would that mean that someone forced to quarantine because of possible exposure is also ineligible for social security disability?
LAUREN ZWIRLEIN: As a general rule, yes. Congress did pass some additional extended sick leave for people who might be in this position, and that is usually going to be a better option and probably the way that somebody should go if they’re in a quarantine at their home.
JOHN MERCURE: We’re talking to Lauren Zwirlein, she’s with Tabak Law.
Thank you for leading us through this because I have a bunch of questions related to this that we’re hearing from people and you, as an expert, can help us sort through.
How about a person who is unable to work because they’re at high risk for developing complications from COVID‑19 but has not actually contracted the virus, can they receive social security disability?
LAUREN ZWIRLEIN: Unfortunately, under social security’s rules, they cannot. You actually have to have an impairment, a physical and/or mental health impairment. The possibility that you might get something is not enough to get disability, unfortunately.
JOHN MERCURE: You know, a lot of doctors and clinics are not offering in‑person visits due to COVID‑19, there are a lot of restrictions, there are a lot of limitations. If someone is unable to get into the doctor or get medical treatment because of an impairment, will it negatively impact their chances of winning a social security disability case down the road?
LAUREN ZWIRLEIN: So, one of the things that social security looks at, if somebody maybe has a gap in treatment or hasn’t been to the doctor in a little while, is why that happened. And they are required to consider any reasoning that somebody puts forth. COVID is a pretty good reason, right? You know, generally the government is going to understand that. As things do begin to open up and virtual visits are offered, that may be an option for people, and that’s something social security will also consider.
JOHN MERCURE: So that will be taken into consideration when it comes time to sort that all out to hear the case to do all that.
LAUREN ZWIRLEIN: Exactly.
JOHN MERCURE: We’re talking to Lauren Zwirlein with Tabak Law.
All right, what about a person who has a pending case, could it be possible that their claim might be delayed due to COVID‑19? Can you walk us through the impact and how that might play out?
LAUREN ZWIRLEIN: Yes, so a lot of people filed prior to the pandemic, of course, and what we’re seeing right now is that there are a lot of delays earlier in the process. One of the reasons for that is that social security is not scheduling in‑person medical examinations. We are starting to see that slowly opening up right now, but there’s a backlog of cases that are waiting.
For those people who are a little further along in the process and might have a hearing or are waiting to see a hearing, those are going to be primarily phone hearings at this point. Those seem to be moving forward a little bit more quickly.
So, you know, the answer will depend on how far into the process somebody already is.
JOHN MERCURE: It’s tough to be patient, but through part of this, is that just what people need to do?
LAUREN ZWIRLEIN: Unfortunately, it is a long process, COVID or not. You know, one of the roles that our office plays is just guiding people through so that they know that social security hasn’t forgotten about them. You may go several months and not hear anything from the government, and that can be concerning. And so, you know, we make sure that we can reassure people that their case still will move forward, but, yes, patience is key.
JOHN MERCURE: Lauren, a lot of people are working at home due to COVID‑19. Any eligibility there for social security disability?
LAUREN ZWIRLEIN: In that circumstance, no. You cannot be working full‑time or even, in a lot of cases, part‑time and still get social security disability. The whole purpose of the disability program is to pay wages for somebody who is unable to work due to their health. Social security doesn’t distinguish between those working from home or those who are in an office or in a factory. None of that matters. If you’re earning the minimum amount that social security requires, then you are not disabled under their rules, usually.
JOHN MERCURE: All right, Lauren, what’s the website? What’s the phone number if people need to get in touch with you guys so you can help them sort this all out?
LAUREN ZWIRLEIN: We’re located online at tabakattorneys.com, and our phone number is 414‑351‑4400.
JOHN MERCURE: All right. So, the easiest way, I’ve checked out the website, it’s very intuitive, it’s easy to use. There’s good information and all the contact stuff is there. It’s tabakattorneys.com. Check it out, tabakattorneys.com. Lauren and her team there can help you sort this out, they’re the best in the business.
Lauren Zwirlein is an attorney at Tabak Law.
Thank you so much, Lauren, for being with us on the Sunday Sip.
LAUREN ZWIRLEIN: Thanks John.