Jen Henderson is a journalist breaking news in the capital region. She is a staff reporter at the St. Albert Gazette and  covers provincial and federal politics, crime and court. 

PTSD symptoms got worse while fighting for help

Rhonda Gibson was finally able to get on AISH after two years and two months of waiting.

After suffering a series of violent incidents at the hands of her former boyfriend, Gibson was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was not able to work. She was formerly working as a psychologist in St. Albert helping patients manage their own PTSD. She spent most of her professional life working with peacekeepers and soldiers and helped them manage their own PTSD.

Suddenly she found herself in need of the help she once provided.

“It is kind of like the oncologist looking at her own x-rays saying ‘I’m full of cancer,’” Gibson said.

Along with physical and psychological wounds, Gibson’s former partner had access to her bank accounts and RRSPs and drained her accounts, leaving her with little money.

After being off work for several months she drained her remaining savings. With the help of her doctors Gibson filled out the paperwork and applied for AISH in October 2013.

Gibson heard no response, and so continuously called the offices to inquire about the status of her application to no end.

In January 2015 she was sent a letter stating that since she hadn’t replied, they were going to close her file. She said she had received no paperwork from AISH and had no communication to reply to.

After some digging, Gibson discovered that they had lost some of her paperwork and she had to re-file her application.

“I was in no mental shape to do anything at the time,” Gibson said. “I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t leave the house until my medication kicked in.”

By October 2015 Gibson was approved for AISH. She received AISH on Dec. 4, 2015 – more than two years after she originally applied.

But while she was waiting, Gibson drained all of her savings and was living off food bank donations. She lost 80 pounds and was living off of doctor-prescribed energy supplements to survive.

Her difficulties with AISH didn’t stop once she was accepted on to the program. They had agreed to provide back pay from August 2015 to December 2015, but nothing before that, despite the fact that they had lost her paperwork. Gibson originally applied in October 2013 and wanted to be paid back from her original application date.

She attempted to arrange meetings with her case worker but her worker said that she would not meet with her.

On top of suffering with PTSD, Gibson has glaucoma, fibromyalgia and celiac disease. She has put in a multitude of treatment and prescription requests, such as psychological services, physiotherapy, massages, chiropractic to help manage and treat her symptoms. She estimates that she has had at least 20 of her requests rejected.

Gibson began to demand a new case worker, and once she was connected with a new worker, her requests suddenly began getting approved.

Along with appealing her therapy requests, Gibson appealed to be paid back since her original application had been submitted, on the grounds that they were the ones who lost her paperwork. She won, and was granted back pay from Nov. 2013.

“There were times when my PTSD was so out of control because of them,” Gibson said. “It was like fighting and fighting. The way I’ve been treated by them. You might as well be garbage or from a third world country because they don’t care.”

The Alberta auditor general’s report released earlier this month sharply criticized the program to favour those who are the most competent at filling out forms and who were the most persistent with their cases, as Gibson has been.

Although she has won some of her appeals, she continues to fight for medication and finances that she needs to survive. She estimates that she has had thirty prescriptions turned down because they are not covered through the program.

Gibson has glaucoma and is losing her eyesight but cannot get approval for the medicated drops because they are not covered. She suffers from chronic pain and the only medication that she can get approved are narcotics, which put her at risk for addiction.

“I’m all fought out,” Gibson said. “You just get worn out. It’s a full-time job.”

Gibson now wants to attempt to go back to work and has letters approved from her doctor and psychiatrist to approve the transition, but she now faces another uphill battle getting support from AISH.

To go back to work Gibson needs $11,000 to get her licence back to begin practicing again but she cannot get support from AISH to fund her transition back to work, despite the fact that the program reserves some money for retraining people able to go back into the workforce.

“They won’t pay for anybody that is so trained like me who needs specialized training to be able to be not a burden on them and go on with my merry life and appreciate the blessings they did give me,” Gibson said.

While Gibson waits to transition off AISH, she is living off of the $1,588 allotted income per month. She is deep in debt, has her credit cards maxed out and does not know how much longer she can live on such a small amount of money.

“The people that need to be on AISH, they’re not [lying],” Gibson said. “I don’t know why they make it so difficult and why they don’t believe doctors or psychiatrists. It’s so messed up. They would rather keep you on the system. It makes no sense to me.”

Gibson is hoping to still find funding to transition back to work and hopes to one day no longer rely on assistance from AISH.

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Waiting three years and eight months for AISH benefits

Waiting three years and eight months for AISH benefits