Yesterday was the culmination of a story that began last September. A stressful story that as it turns out was totally avoidable. However. I shall begin at the beginning.
After my son's injury he was awarded a Disability Living Allowance for two years, at which point he was to be re-assessed before any further award. Well last September they discontinued his allowance with no by-your-leave, no assessment or anything else. They simply wrote to him to say he was no longer disabled and therefore the allowance was discontinued. WELL! He appealed against the decision... here is the form he had to fill out... it's 134 pages long!
He is not the greatest of people for filling in forms and after several pages and a giant headache he gave the form to his wife to complete for him.
The response was the same as before... you are not disabled any more. Since he clearly IS disabled he had the doctor send a letter... an official letter which clearly states his medical condition - incomplete paraplegia. There was no response whatsoever to this.
The appeal went to a Tribunal which was scheduled for yesterday afternoon.
Jonathon asked me to go with him for moral support. The nature of Jonathon's injury means that his main day to day concern is with pain. He never has a pain free day but on some days the pain responds to the drugs he takes and he can cope. On those days he is able to walk with the aid of his leg splints and a stick, on those days he is able to go to work and he functions, as far as anyone can see, like a normal person. On those days he still has other problems to deal with, his injury robbed him of bladder and bowel control and most of his ability to feel any sensation below the waist.
Without his splints on he suffers from 'drop foot'... the inability to hold his feet at right angles to his legs and therefore without his splints walking is impossible. He has to be very careful that he doesn't injure himself in any way since he cannot feel his legs and feet it is easy to stub his toe for example without even realising. He actually sprained his ankle once and had no idea until it swelled up twice the size of his other ankle.
The day of the tribunal was not a good day... Jonathon was in a bit of pain so he had to use his wheelchair... we took his splints along to show them... there was never any intention to try and make out his injuries are worse than they actually are, yet from almost the first moment we arrived, the whole tone of questioning was very much designed to 'catch him out'. A panel of one judge, a doctor and a care professional then grilled Jonathon for an hour and twenty minutes.
The kinds of questions were really intimate and the same questions were asked over and over just in a different way. For example, they asked him how many days he suffered from pain on average. He replied three to four days a week. The response was "can you put that into percentages?" "Percentage of what?" he asked... "Oh well how much of a month are you in pain then?" Now even I was getting confused and my arithmetic is tons better than Jonathons.
It became very clear that they knew he had climbed Mt Kilimanjaro but instead of simply saying, oh we saw in the paper that you have climbed Kili tell us about that, they asked him if he had ever made an extra special effort to do something physical that would normally be beyond his abilities. Of course he told them about his Help for Heroes challenge and he explained about the support that he required for that trip... how he was taking twice his normal pain medications, that he had two sticks, porters to carry his kit and two helpers one walking either side of him, to support him and he took it very slowly and at the end was nearly collapsing with fatigue and emotion. In fact he did collapse on the way down. I was completely amazed to hear the care professional then say that they hadnt really achieved what they said they did, i.e to say they had walked up Mt Kiliminjaro was incorrect... that because of needing the extra support he and his injured colleagues had in fact not really done it at all! I was not supposed to talk to the tribunal being only emotional support for Jonathon but I'm afraid I had to interject. I tried not to get angry... I didn't want to spoil his chances of getting his award but I seriously could not believe what I was hearing.
The whole event forced Jonathon to concentrate on everything that he cannot do which is something he has never done, being trained by the army to focus on what he CAN DO. Without this CAN DO attitude his recovery would not have been so good and the psychological effects of this making him feel truly disabled may be much more far reaching than they realise. Jonathon had prepared a statement which he read out at the end of the tribunal which pretty much finished with him saying that he had not expected to be treated like this, having sustained his injuries in the service of his country, it was very emotional and we barely got out of there without totally breaking down.
Ten minutes later they called us back into the room to say that he had been awarded the allowance but at a lower level than previously and that it would run for 5 years at which time it would be re-assessed. The initial problem was because his wife had put on the form that he was able to walk 200 metres in 3 minutes (which even on a good day would be hard for Jonathon). Now why couldn't they have simply queried him about that up front...? Why the round about quizzing and questioning?