Wagga woman reveals six-year disability pension 'nightmare'

At the end of her tether, one Wagga woman is calling for better access to the disability pension following a six-year-long, heartbreaking journey she described as a nightmare. 

Rue – who spoke to The Daily Advertiser under a pseudonym for fear of penalty – said she had appealed to the Department of Human Services for help after she injured her back and damaged the nerves in her legs. The 62-year-old shared her harrowing journey to crippling pain in a bid to highlight the flaws in the system.

“It’s a game,” Rue said. “You do everything… then they change the goal posts.” 

Suffering from chronic back pain and nerve damage, Rue has also been diagnosed with a lung disease, heart murmur, a leaky heart valve, an undiagnosed neurological condition, osteoporosis, depression, anxiety and stress-induced vision impairment. 

The 62-year-old was placed on Newstart Allowance, pending approval of her disability claim six-years ago.  But since that date, Rue said she was having to meet specific requirements that kept changing and she felt the workers who processed the claims needed medical training. 

“They can’t spell some of the conditions let alone know what they are,” she said. “Medical reports should be read by people who are trained.”

Her calls for change were echoed by Wagga Autism Support Group president Deb Bewick, who said she too had witnessed the bureaucracy, red tape and complicated check-box system that was causing residents applying for the pension to “go mad”. 

“The pension, in the last three years, has been virtually impossible to get,” Ms Bewick said. “It is so, so hard ... unless you’re terminal you can’t seem to get it.”

She said required specialist reports could cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars, in addition to long wait times. 

Ms Bewick said the application process needed to be simpler. 

“I agree the pension should not just be given to everyone who applies,” she said. 

“People have misused the system in the past … but (the system) is now knocking back very genuine cases and it is destroying people’s lives.” 

A Department of Human Services spokesman said the service understood “events such as this (were) very difficult for people”. 

“The department has extended a standing offer to contact this person to ensure they are appropriately supported,” they said. “Eligibility for (the disability pension) is determined by assessing an individual's ability and the impact that a condition has on a (their) capacity to work.”

The spokesman said medical evidence was carefully considered by allied health professionals, who were trained to assess that evidence against the eligibility criteria.

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