Yesterday I worked with a client - her name is Heather. Heather worked for 28 years as a cook in a retirement village. She was a great cook, and was well liked by her co-workers and the residents of the nursing home. At "happy-hour" time, Heather would work the bar and enjoyed catching up with her customers at the village.
Heather always struggled with her knees. She had been on her feet for years and her knees were becoming more problematic. Her employer tried to accommodate her as best as they could, but the kitchen and the bar are physical and eventually she could no longer continue. In 2008, she was advised that she needed total knee replacements. She had both knees replaced in 2008 and 2009. The pain that she had in her hips and back were thought to have been radiating from her knees, was expected to resolve once she had the knee replacements and she was anxious to have the surgeries in order to get her life back. She was a golfer, enjoyed darts, and was a new grandmother.
It was clear after the 54 physiotherapy visits after the surgeries, and the acupuncture, and the exercise and weight loss, and the medication, and her beloved Dr. Ho that she was not going to get back to her old job as a cook. She was restricted by her physicians to 2-3 hours of work - 2 days a week. She went back to her employer but they couldn't accommodate such a limited capacity to work. She was broken-hearted and soon became depressed. This lead to a number of other issues raising their head - more pain - more stress eating - more depression - limited sleep - the never-ending self-recrimination that she was unable to provide an income for her family. She could not retrain, cooking was all she knew, and she had chosen that profession as in her words "book work never stuck with me"
She applied to Canada Pension Plan three times and was repeatedly denied. She gave up after each denial as she was told she would get no where with the government. She went on to have her hip replaced - and her back has serious degeneration due to arthritis. She fights depression constantly and seeks mental health counselling. She took injections in her back to see if that would help her pain. She is on medication and she needs help to sleep. And yet she continued to be denied.
A medical adjudicator from Canada Pension Plan called Heather and told her because the doctor said that she could work 2-3 hours, 2 days a week that she was indeed capable of working and that she did not qualify for a disability benefit. When Heather said that she could not work at the same level as I am quoting directly from the file here the medical adjudicator who works for CPP says "Canada Pension Plan disability does not look at the level of earnings she could make, just whether or not she is able to work some type of job."
This statement is in fact misinformation and this case-manager knows that. The reason why I know that, is because I have been doing this work for twenty years and I recognize the medical adjudicator on file. The adjudication guidelines talk about what a substantially gainful occupation is - actually there is a policy outlining it - and there are the allowable earnings provision which reflects the fact that some people only have the capacity to work in a limited way - as was the case with Heather. So this medical adjudicator ignored the guidelines to deny a claim. This misinformation was included in the denial letter, and made up part of the Minister's submission that they included to defend their position to continue to deny this claim right to the hearing date.
Sadly this is not an isolated incident.
Heather and her husband appeared at the Social Security Tribunal hearing and were able to explain how Heather's medical condition has severely impacted their life. Because Heather could no longer work, her husband was working two jobs in his early seventies to make ends meet. When Heather was asked by the Tribunal Member if she had anything to say in closing - Heather spoke about how she was misled by the government, how she had paid in to the program for 28 years, how she was reduced to tears by the medical adjudicator who spouted the misinformation, how this decision prevented her from enjoying her life, how she had to scrape by to get Christmas gifts for her grandchildren, how she had always contributed to her family, how she has to use all of her RRSPs in order to survive and now she is left with no retirement funds. She spoke about the pain that she was experiencing, the fact that she had done everything she could to regain her ability to work, but that she was quite simply disabled. She said that she finally felt validated that she had the opportunity to speak her piece to the Tribunal Member.
One of the recommendations that I have heard in my work on the CPP Disability Roundtable is that the government is suggesting that there be early intervention in that medical adjudicators contact appellants to speak to clients prior to making a decision. I am opposed - the reason being - is for the type of situation that actually occurred in this file. Further, these calls are out of the blue, and most people find speaking with the government to be very stressful. Heather explained she was on the back foot during this call - and was confused and stressed, and as noted "client weepy" by the medical adjudicator. How about some compassion lady?
I received a call yesterday - from a client who has massive anxiety and panic attacks, PTSD, etc. This client was contacted by CPP out of the Chatham region (this is for the folk who are reading this blog from Gatineau). When the client sad that she could not speak to the medical adjudicator without her advocate present - the case-manager demanded that she talk to her - and eventually the client hung up. She phoned my office in a full blown panic attack - had to call her psychiatrist after the call. I am still getting the details to share as she does not remember the name of who it was that called her - but I will get there and share this information.
Anyway, it is Friday - and happy weekend to you all. Please if you need help, contact the office as we are here to help. Our expertise gets results.