A caller recently told me they were advised by a Social Security Tribunal employee that they did not need help to appeal their CPP disability benefit to the Social Security Tribunal. Respectfully, I do not agree. I understand that the employees at the Social Security Tribunal cannot recommend an Appellant get a case-manager or someone to help them with their appeal and I am not saying that this caller could not do it alone, but it is my opinion that this may not be the wisest move.
When the federal government announced the creation of the CPP Social Security Tribunal, they said that this new appeal's body, would be fair, transperant, and impartial. Like the definition of CPP disability benefits, where all words in the definition need to be considered, I would like to take issue with each of these words. Firstly, I do not think it is fair at all, that all these people are waiting for appeals - some of them for a year now. I do not think it is fair, that these people have had this system foisted on to them. I do not think it is fair that they are forced to choose between medication and their house payments, that their children are going without, and that the additional stress that this "fair" system places on them and their family, is causing them additional stress and mental health issues. I cannot tell you how many calls I get a week from people who are fed up that they have had to wait years to get this sorted.
The idea that this new system is transparent is frankly a joke. A basic phone call to a 1-800 line find out information about your CPP disability benefit is a challenge, once you get through the voice prompts you are hung up on because the lines are busy, or you wait for a long time to get through, and the Information Line at the Social Security Tribunal - I have heard from clients calling my office - offers little or no information at all until you get a call back. The processes are not transparent at all. I have asked what an appeal process is going to look like and have been given no information. I am thankful that I have a few staff members that I can email directly, otherwise it would be very difficult. I do not know how a regular person can manage this system.
I would also like to submit to those out there who are suggesting that a person does not need help to manage this process, that the Appellant has to give their best shot to the Social Security Tribunal - as if they stuff it up or do not present the information they need, or if they are asked to make submissions without any understanding of the lay of the land - their reasons to appeal a denial at the Social Security Tribunal General Division are limited. So I feel, a client who is appealing to this new system needs all the help that they can get to ensure the best opportunity - or shot at being successful. The old Review Tribunal used to provide their appellant with a brochure and a DVD called "Your Best Shot." My question to the CPP Social Security Tribunal, are they going to be providing the same documentation and information to the clients out their stuck in this appeal process? How does advising a client that they do not need help at an appeal ensure that they are getting their best shot?
In terms of the Social Security Tribunal being impartial - please review my previous blogs to see who the members are that have been appointed. Review how many of these members actually have any experience reviewing a CPP disabiity benefit appeal. Review how they will be able to get consultation with doctors and lawyers who are on staff or consultants at the Social Security Tribunal and make your own decisions about impartiality. Another point I would like to make is consider the denial rate for Canada Pension Plan disability benefit is 62%. That is six out of ten people that Canada Pension Plan deny. It appears to me that this whole system from application to appeal, is set up to deny, to obfuscate, to frustrate, and to eliminate the payment of CPP Disability benefits to Canadians who indeed deserve it.
The Commissioner of the SST also notes in her welcome address that the new Social Security Tribunal will be efficient, effective, and independent. Okay, well I agree that it is early days in this new tribunal, that it has only been six months since its inception. However, in my opinion the bureaucrats knew a year prior that the Social Security Tribunal would be created. So as I have said before, at the time of the implementation approximately 6500 legacy appeals came over from the Review Tribunal - why on earth was the Social Security Tribunal not prepared for this transition - oh right - they put in new proesses and Notice of Readiness documents that had to be signed in order to get an appeal (see previous posts about this) which did not arrive at my office until May 2013 and both parties have until March 2014 to have them signed. It is now September 2013, an in six months there have been no General Division hearings conducted. That means that 6500 people are still waiting (there may have been some settlements of course so perhaps that number is a little lower) but take in to consideration all of the new appeals that the Social Security Tribunal will receive if there is a 62% denial rate of CPP disability applications?
Efficient - NO.
Effective - NO.
Independent - well read my previous blogs.
Alright I would like to throw this out as well. The prior appeal system with independent levels of appeal, would typically avoid the prejudices and decision making done by what I feel is some kind of ratio of CPP denials - how else can the Feds explain at 62% denial rate? The prior appeal system really did honour the spirit and intent of the Canada Pension Plan legislation.
The old Review Tribunal had around 250 - 300 Panel members to hear the cases. Okay so now you have approximately 6500 legacy appeals come from the Review Tribunal, as well approximately 3500 new appeals each year, how are these full time Social Security Tribunal members (of which there are 10 working on CPP from review of the information posted by the government) going to possibly deal with the number of these cases? There are not enough Tribunal Members to handle the volume and my fear is that rubber stamping will be the inevitable result.
So back to my original point - I believe it is imperative and only in a person's best interests to get help with an appeal to the Social Security Tribunal - and frankly - help with your application, your reconsideration appeal - so you can avoid being in this appeal system period.
I also feel it is unfair to suggest that people can do this alone. Given the lack of transperancy which is already apparent, as well as the lack of accessibility to even getting an appeal scheduled, or not have the choice to have your appeal heard in person, I think that by advising people that they can manage this system without help, is only disadvantaging them further.
The Canada Pension Plan dsability adjudicators and various tribunal members are challenged with the task of distinguishing between those applications that are eligible or ineligible for disability benefits. My opinion is that even at application - when the Feds are denying 62% of cases - that they are already failing in their mandate. Contrary to the statements of the Commissioner and the HRSDC Minister, the change in this process is only going to limit, challenge, and raise insumountable barriers for a regular Joe many of whom have significant functional limitations that make it difficult for them to apply in the first place, let alone try and make their way through this appeal system alone and without any help. Many of these people are computer illiterate, english may not be their first language, they may not have internet access, they often have no experience dealing with an administrative process. So how on earth can someone advise that these people do not need help, or it is not a smart idea to get help?
Also I have issues with the statement that these appeals are accessible. Many people lack accessbility to their medical information - they cannot afford to get medical reports needed to help support their appeal. With the new Notice of Readiness system - they lack the accessiblity of providing additional medical information which over the course of a disabilty can change at any time and can be quite unpredictable. If english is a second language they will lack accessibility to a translator which will no longer be provided by this new appeal system. They lack accessiblity to decide what type of appeal they will get - they lack accessibility to even get an appeal. They lack accessibility to understanding the process and procedures on how this appeal system will even work.
There is no requirement that the Social Security Tribunal has to provide any kind of documentation to parliament as to how this new system is serving Canadians. Right. What does that tell you?
Fair. Accessible, Transperant. Impartial. Efficient. Effective. Independent. All pretty words.
My critics may say that my motivation to post these thoughts are based in self interest. No, not the case. I am imparting information I have collected and my thoughts based on 15 years of experience, as well as on the phone calls and emails that I get every day. The readers of this blog can decide whether or not they agree with me.