The Hoops We Jump Through for Help (and so we don't become homeless)

Guys, I have a bit of a rant to share. 

Going through Recovery is a hellish process - there is no denying that. In my own experience of it, I've been diagnosed with Complex PTSD which has made participation in "normal" life extremely difficult. 

While I'm not having flashbacks every second of the day, nor am I suicidal, I constantly face a stigma and enormous difficulty from family, friends and the public in general. 
I have been asked before by a colleague "How can you have PTSD? you haven't been in a war." I have been told to "just go get a job and stop being a bludger." 

I've also found it extremely difficult to connect with the right service providers to support me with different things. Case in point:

I applied for Disability Support Pension back in February 2018. I had to supply a more recent diagnosis by a Clinical Psychologist or Psychiatrist. I have no problem with DHS wanting more up to date information, the problem is that my main source of income IS a DHS allowance, and seeing a Psychiatrist or Clinical Psychologist was not something I could easily afford to do. Even though there was about a 50% rebate on the expenses of seeing them, it was still an extra $80 out of pocket for every appointment I had to magically find. 

By magically fined, I mean I had to take out an Advance Payment to afford these appointments, which small amounts are then subsequently deducted from my fortnightly allowance to repay. 

The Clinical Psychologist I saw for a new diagnostic report was difficult. This woman had zero empathy and rapport building skills and asked extremely intrusive questions about the sexual abuse I experienced at 14 years old, with no explanation of the need for them. Questions like, "so did you enjoy it?" she gave me no way of coping during the session and no after-care plan. Her sessions were traumatizing, and on top of that, she was somewhat unprofessional in her tardiness. 

Rather than complaining about my experiences, I took the report she had written - even though it featured several factual errors - sent it to DHS in support of my claim. I supplied DHS with past reports from my original diagnosis, and from my current Social Worker and signed a medical release so DHS can verify my records. 

Since submitting all of these on March 21st, I found out three weeks ago that the MyGov site stuffed up my online form submissions. DHS only received a small portion of the data I had uploaded. Right here, DHS was good enough to allow a re-submission and backdated it all to March 21st. 

Fast forward to Thursday, 26 July. 
DHS contact me to advise that my claim can't be processed successfully because I discontinued treatment with the clinical psychologist. I explained to the operator that I refused to see this psychologist again, and was making far more progress with the social supplied to me by VOCAT - at no charge to me. I explained also that asking me to suddenly change what I was doing was not going to work given the issues at play - it has taken a long time for me to find the right person with the right experience to help me and I was not about to give them up! 

DHS are now asking for another report from her detailing my symptoms, prognosis and diagnosis, and won't pay her for her time and energy in doing so (bullshit). 

I understand there are people who "game the system" and do the wrong thing. I am not one of them. I am seeking the help and support I need to improve and hopefully return to a more "normal" life. 

I am exercising my right to access this help and support and feel like I'm being made to jump through ridiculous hoops each one designed to disprove my claim, and forget about me. Having a Disability Support Pension that is open for all Australians to apply for, but making it almost impossible for them to access and use is NOT the same as actually giving people with disability the help they need. 

You can't say we have a DSP if you make it impossible for people to actually access that benefit. 

In my own situation, as mentioned above my main source of income is a DHS allowance. This allowance DOES NOT cover my bills. Let me be VERY clear with this: I do not live extravagantly. I do not spend all my money on clothes or shoes. The money from DHS goes 100% to make sure we can cover rent, groceries, and our essential utilities. We don't have Foxtel. I haven't had a proper haircut in almost 2 years. I have 1 jumper I can wear through all of winter. 

We have faced the prospect of not being able to pay our rent many times through this process, and the only solution offered to us was to take a no interest LOAN (do I even need to spell out the problem with this?!) to make our rent. We do not live in a beautiful, suburban home. We live in a small, old flat.on the cheapest rent, we could arrange.

It is ridiculous to expect anyone with a mental health condition or who have been traumatized to survive for so long on the meager allowance we receive. So many survivors I know struggle financially - many aren't capable of working in the traditional sense and it's so easy to see in situations like ours or worse, why many survivors turn to prostitution, stripping or similar vocations as a way of making ends meet. It's also easy to see how so many become homeless.

How can Australia call itself a forward thinking country, the lucky country, the fair go country, when this is a rampant problem? When we make it almost impossible for our most vulnerable to access the help they need?

I once heard an apt saying that describes this best:

"The best judge of a country is how it treats it's most vulnerable citizens."

Well, Australia, we have a lot of work to do before we can really be a country of the fair go.

#DiabilityRights

Ashleigh Rae