confounding

I am the sort of person who thinks obsessively. I say that I tend to “over think” or that I’m an “analytical thinker”, because stuff goes round in my head until I’m dizzy. There are lots of people out there who can be puzzled at something that’s happened, and then say “oh well” and shrug, because they accept that not everything makes sense. I am not one of those people. The maybes, the whys, the wherefores all spin round in my head like a pink sock in a white wash.
Of course, over the last few weeks, I’ve done little else but obsess over the details of my IB appeal. From a simple “damn, what was that doctor on?” to a broader “the whole system’s fucked” and everywhere in between. In my head, it’s been extremely complex, and if my thought processes could be printed out on a flow chart – well, let’s just say there isn’t a piece of paper big enough.
So, you’d think that writing my statement of appeal would be easy. I’ve got the facts sorted out, I know I’m right, I’m articulate and intelligent. So, yesterday I sat down with a note pad and the appeal summary bobbins, and started reading. I knew I’d get angry with it, and thought that I’d channel that anger into a well constructed statement that someone with clout was actually going to read.
Then I noticed something. If you remember, the doctor at the medical in December ticked the yes and no boxes, and had to write the reasons for his answers. The first question on the list was the one about whether I could answer the telephone and take a message. He’d said yes, and I couldn’t read his writing well enough to decipher his reasons. Yesterday, as I went through the pages once again, I realised what it said.
“answers when phone ring, responsible memory”
In other words the doctor has BLATANTLY LIED on that form. If I could have channelled that anger into a well constructed statement, it would have been fantastic…

That’s better

It takes a five minute conversation with the Lovely Solicitor™ to put my mind at rest.
Up til then, I was convinced that if I had to drag myself to a tribunal, kicking, screaming and stoned on valium before promptly puking on their desk, I would do it. LS™ says this isn’t necessary. My options for a hearing have been either an oral hearing (the kicking and screaming bit) or a paper hearing, where I basically submit a statement of why I think the decision is wrong. I had this idea of writing a statement anyway, in case I spacked out at the hearing and couldn’t get my point across, and I’ve been busying myself making notes etc. LS™ suggested that an oral hearing might give the appeals panel the grounds to say, “well you made it here, what’s the problem?” (or something like that). So, the way forward is a paper hearing.
The bumph I received yesterday asks if I have any further evidence to support my claim. This has always bothered me, because at the moment, apart from Dr H, I’m not seeing anyone. LS™ and Wonderful Legal Secretary™ have suggested that a statement from Mr D will be good – and it makes so much sense – after all, he knows me best and lives with this shit too. I’ve been given instructions about how it should be written, and what they’ll be looking for.
That’s this weekend sorted, then…

she knits and she shits

there I was, writing a post about how I’ve been dying from the most horrible diarrhoea and vomiting bug EVER, when *thunk* the postman drops an A4 manilla envelope through the letter box. It looks like someone thinks I’m a publisher, because it’s as big as a book manuscript.
It may as well be a novel – it’s the “Life and Times of Dominocat’s IB Claim”. The Benefits agency have sent me photocopies of every bit of paper pertaining to my claim now, and stuff from when I had a PCA in 2004. Hopefully, the Benefits Agency have sent a copy to my solicitor (that still sounds so cool!) otherwise I’ll have to spend a lot of money copying it and sending it on. It makes interesting reading – and answers a few questions that I had. One of these was “which of my health care professionals filled in the form last time?” I thought it was M, I distinctly remember having conversations with her about it. As it turns out, it was Dr H, who filled it in this time too.
It seems they have put my appeal through what they call “reconsideration” where someone looks at the forms again and decides whether they added the points up correctly. I’d already said there was no point in doing this, because I was appealing against the entire medical, and the fact that the doctor didn’t even ask me many of the questions on the form – well, you know the story.
The whole thing looks incredibly scary. The size of the document, the legalese, the fact it is scrutinizing me, when all I want to do is hide… I can’t help thinking that they make it deliberately scary to put people off. I honestly think that if it wasn’t for the fact that I have a solicitor and his wonderful legal secretary giving me encouragement and resassurance, I’d have just puked and given up.

More IB stuff

When the BBC originally opened “Have Your Say” to comments from the public about Incapacity Benefit reforms, it was a general “what do you think, then?” Over the following days, the priority of the question gave way to things like “Should we have ID cards?” and “What do you think of the latest Bin Laden tapes?”. Mr Hutton’s latest revalation that GP’s should be offered cash to encourage IB claimants back to work has brought the issue to the fore again, this time with the heading “Should welfare work rules be tougher?” I can’t help thinking that the BBC is trying to lead people – it’s funny how the topic slid quickly down the list when it became clear that many commenters were absolutely incensed about Mr Hutton’s proposals.
My favourite comment, however, comes from a GP:
“As a GP, I reckon I should be a patient advocate, not a police service for a heavily flawed benefits sytem.”
I keep sending comments in, but so far only one has been published. The BBC allow 500 characters for your comment, which isn’t much to voice your dissent, especially when you want to respond to so many of the commenters who appear less than clued up about the whole thing. I may do it here…

*yawn*

Well, this should be fun…

“[Incapacity Benefit] reforms would include an element of compulsion”

I think the thing I have to hold on to is that these plans aren’t due to go ‘live’ until about 2008. By then, I’ll either have had enough counselling to get me better enough to work, or a new government will be in power. Like Scarlett O’Hara said, “I can’t think about that now, I’ll think about that tomorrow” Still, it doesn’t help. Half way down the page is a link to “Have Your Say” – where the Beeb invites comments from the public. Some of them make interesting (if spine tingling) reading.

Regarding my appeal, I don’t want to say a huge amount, other than “friends who are legal secretaries are just utterly wonderful”. I now have the appeal forms filled in and sent, with the help of her boss. I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am to them both.

One thing that I realised when I was rattling on to anyone who would listen, was that the doctor at the medical didn’t ask me one single question about panic attacks. Given that panic attacks are the main reason I don’t work (my fear of going outside alone has a lot to do with a fear of having a panic attack on my own), I think this is utterly disgusting. There’s a lot wrong with that medical, not just the system and how it works, but the actual doctor and his examination.

Thinking

I’ve been thinking a bit more about this whole IB decision, and have come to two conclusions.

Firstly, the points system. It looks like I fill a form in, my GP fills a form in, and a doctor examines me, then someone else comes along and awards me points based on those three things. (A blind person, obviously)

Secondly, I’m pretty certain that last time this assessment thing happened, it was M, not my GP who filled in the “health care professional” side of the form. With all due respect to my GP, a psychology counsellor who has spoken to me in depth for an hour every fortnight is going to be more able to accurately describe my day to day living. My GP sees me for 10-15 minutes once a month, and none of our consultation is counselling. Having said that, I was there in her office when she filled in the forms, and I don’t recall having any cause to say “hang on a minute, what about…”

I went through the points scoresheet, and answered the questions as honestly as possible. I scored 22. I required 10 to qualify for IB, and they had given me 7.

I swallowed a lot of rage yesterday afternoon and phoned the Benefits Agency. I just couldn’t understand how they had got it so wrong. The woman I spoke to was okay, at least she wasn’t one of these stereotypical benefits ogres (but then, I wasn’t screaming “where’s me fookin’ giro??” down the phone and threatening to leave my baby on their step, while calming my nerves with 20 regal kingsize). I learned a few interesting things. She told me that “it’s a fine line sometimes between getting IB and not” Yes, there’s a fine line between 7 points and 22 points. She told me that as I didn’t qualify for Income Support, it might be worth claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance. Riiigght – so, signing on as unemployed and “fit and available for work” is a good idea… Finally, she suggested that I contact the Disablilty Employment Advisor.

When my employers first terminated my contract about 4 years ago, I was sent to the Disability Employment Advisor. The poor woman struggled to suggest things that would be helpful, and in the end, said “I think your best idea is to see how the counselling goes then come back to me”. Although my situation has fluctuated since then -I’ve felt better and I’ve felt a damn sight worse – I really don’t know what they could tell me. Call me defeatist if you like, but what on earth is the point of going and getting stressed about new places and people for no reason?

The Benefits Agency cut any benefits that they decide you’re not entitled to immediately – without warning. This means that I got the letter yesterday, and I stopped getting benefit yesterday. I hope to god we weren’t relying on that payment for any direct debit or anything…

If anyone is googling for advice on a similar situation, a friend has advised me to contact DIAL UK. I haven’t yet, but will do, and report back…

Update

I’ve received a copy of the medical report.

I don’t care who knows this. If it helps someone else, then fine. Basically, the form I filled in and the form my GP filled in were a waste of time and effort. The entire assessment is based on 20 minutes with a doctor who has never seen you before. The check sheet with yes and no answers constitutes about 80% of that doctor’s report, word for word. There is a small space underneath for “reasons for your answer”. Most of them are either COMPLETELEY WRONG or misleading.

I’ve had enough now. If it wasn’t for the fact that I can’t afford to lose the money, I wouldn’t fucking bother.

Oh, and DIAL have told me to contact Citizen’s Advice, who (locally) are only open from 10am to 12pm, meaning Mr D has to take more time off work.

Christ…

Benefits Agency Angst

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I had an assessment for claiming Incapacity Benefit in early December. I got a letter today, telling me I no longer qualify for IB. Looking at the letter, they might as well have written “we really have no clue about this lady’s condition, and we’re just ticking random boxes”
Last time I got this letter, it simply said that I still qualify, and that I had the right to appeal against the decision – the usual blurb, but this time, they’ve broken it down into a more in depth look at how they reached their decision, with a tick sheet of basic questions the answers to which award you ‘points’. Get enough points, and you get the benefit.
The entire page on “physical health” is a series of ‘no’ answers – basically they think that because I was okay on that particular day, I don’t have a physical health problem. Given that last week, I was crawling on the floor to go to the toilet because the pain in my back and hip was so bad I couldn’t stand, I think they’ve got something wrong. Although my reason for not working and claiming this benefit is primarily due to my mental health problems, I’m sure it is important to get the facts right about my physical health problems too.
The page on “mental health” is a series of both yes and no responses, which I can’t understand because I wasn’t asked half the questions on this form. How the hell they have reached the conclusion that I “can answer the telephone and reliably take a message” is beyond me, because I wasn’t even asked that. If I had been, I would have told them that the mere ringing of the telephone can cause me to have a panic attack, and there is NO WAY I can answer the phone if I don’t know who it is.
They have also decided that my mental health problem “does not prevent me from undertaking leisure activities which I have previously enjoyed”. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been invited places and declined because of how I feel, or how it would affect my anxiety. I can’t go to the cinema if it’s busy. I rarely go out with friends, because I need to feel safe. I don’t go out on my bike any more, partly because of the pain, and partly because I can’t go outside by myself. The terror I feel at the thought of leaving the house on my own is incredible.
I guess that the Benefits Agency can’t have a system that takes into account every little nuance of my mental health, however this so-called “assessment” is ridiculous. As well as the medical I attended, there was also a detailed form to fill in about my illness. On it, I definitely put about my problems with the telephone, and I remember writing something to the tune of “I only go out when absolutely necessary, and even then, I have to be accompanied by my husband”. It seems that my efforts to accurately describe my day to day life with this disability went unheeded.
I shall be appealing, partly because I need the money, and partly because I’d planned to apply for DLA, and although it has separate forms, I don’t know how much of this “assessment” they will look at. What bothers me is that my answers to the questions (both on the form I received and the doctor’s questions) were exactly the same as previous occasions. Nothing about my condition has changed. This whole thing needs to be consistent, for fucks sake…