This week I had a Pension Appeals Board hearing.
The Pension Appeals Board is the last level of appeal (typically speaking - there is appeal to the Federal Court of Canada if you are denied at Pension Appeals Board) but that is well out of my area of expertise.
The Pension Appeals Board is the appeal level you go to if you are denied at the Review Tribunal. Appeal rights are not automatic - and you have to be given permission or leave to appeal to attend at this level.
The Pension Appeals Board is made up of three usually retired judges - they are great, savy, and expert fact finders.
I heart the Pension Appeals Board.
My client this week was a lady let's call her Beth. Beth is complicated - she experiences significant pain - in both a physical and emotional way. Beth has been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia as her physical condition and many other mental health conditions. Beth has experienced chronic trauma her entire life - but I admire her - she is resilient, smart and tells it like it is.
Beth had a very unfortunate experience with the Review Tribunal - if I may speak frankly - the decision was, well let me just say it made me see red and only in my opinion re-abused Beth with their narrow minded and high browed condenscending writings as well as accusing Beth in no uncertain terms of fabricating her entire life experiences and trauma that she experienced. Yes panel members what happened to Beth does happen in the real world. I told Beth not to read the decision because I did not want her to be again abused by the system. Harsh words I know but I speak the truth.
Anyway, I convinced Beth that I would deal with this - I would submit the Leave to Appeal which I did and we were granted Leave which meant the decision of the Review Tribunal was set aside (good riddance in my opinion).
This is the second time that Beth's Pension Appeals Board hearing has been scheduled - the first time the CPP disability adjourned the matter so that they could get an Independent Medical Examination - I thought great - the Feds are developing the file - and Beth was sent to a Physical Medicine doctor who recognized she had significant pain but thought perhaps there were psychological issues as well contributing to her disability - and so the Feds then sent Beth for an Independent Medical Examination with a Psychiatrist. Good call I thought.
Two IMEs are very rare and not something that I have seen - so I thought for sure the Feds would settle - especially when the Psychistrist came back stating that Beth's residual capacity for work activity was very low and her prognosis is poor given the chronic nature of her condition.
But no the hearing was scheduled and the information in its totality appeared to be ignored.
Now Beth - she was adamant that she was not going to appear - she was disgusted by the way she was treated at the Review Tribunal, she had sent in every government form, she has consented to two Independent Medical Exams, she had openly discussed intimate and very difficult to hear details about her life - and she was not going to appear again and have her wounds relived (her words) - she wanted to quit and she was fearful that another negative experience would push her down too much. She kept asking me "what else do they (the feds) need?"
I did not know what to do - I contacted the lawyer representing CPP and told him that I did not think the hearing would proceed given Beth's feelings about the process - he told me that he would argue negative inference (which means that the Board should consider the appellant not appearing in a negative way) if Beth did not attend.
I called the registrar at the Pension Appeals Board - let's call her Jane - she was great and gave me some really helpful advice and encouragement and suggested that I try one more time to ask Beth to attend the hearing.
Well I picked Beth up and I got her to the hearing and I prayed to the heavens that I was doing the right thing by ensuring her that everything was going to be okay and that we would get through the hearing. I am so glad she agreed to attend.
I heart the Pension Appeals Board - the panel had obviously read through the entire file - they asked appropriate questions - they treated Beth with the utmost respect and kindness - I do not know how the decision will come down - but Beth was so happy because she felt she was heard and she felt VALIDATED.
The opposing side took their cue from the Board and they were also very respectful of Beth and even though I thought the lawyer asked a series of bonehead questions and was making very simplistic and grasping at straws arguments - he was good to Beth - the doctor (typically not my favourite) was dare I say it - fair and balanced. Although doc I do not agree that a little aquasize would solve the problem!
Anyway, why am I writing this? Well you know the big Harper Hammer is coming down on these appeals and I am really worried how people are going to cope in this new system - I am trying to keep the glass half full approach to this and believe that the new system may be a good thing. Right?
A "connected" person I know in the disability community who has the inside track on the Harper Hammer told me that the bureacracy is in chaos. I will leave it up to the readers out there to decide for themselves what they think - but that is what I was told and I hope that somehow all of this chaos will resolve itself to the benefit to Canadians at some of their most vulnerable times - when they are trying to apply for a CPP disability benefit because they contributed to the system over many years of work.
Have a good week friends.