Waiting three years and eight months for AISH benefits
Since Christy Brown became ill, she says she feels like a third class citizen.
In 2011, Brown was diagnosed with an occipital cavernous hemangioma, which is a blood vessel malformation in the brain that caused her to have seizures making her unable to work. She has not been able to get much government support.
After struggling with her illness and doctors appointments, Brown applied for the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) in March 2013 while living in Fort McMurray. On June 25, 2014 – one year and three months later – Brown received a denial letter in the mail. The letter stated that she needed to ensure she had exhausted all of her other treatment options before she would be accepted on to AISH.
“The doctor had taken me off [work] and they would reevaluate in a year’s time.” Brown said. “Because they put that on the paperwork I still wasn’t eligible.”
Earlier this month, the Alberta auditor general released a scathing review of the AISH program, suggesting that it was difficult to access and favoured those who were persistent and good at filling out paperwork. It also criticized the wait times to get onto the AISH program, citing 203 days as the average amount of time it takes between the submission of the AISH application and the acceptance to the program.
The report found that fifty per cent of applications that are filed are originally denied, but 42 per cent of those who submit additional information or fight the original ruling with an appeal will end up on the program.
Before she fell ill, Brown was self-employed and ran a day home. She had just moved to Fort McMurray from St. Albert and was working for a food service provider for two months when she started to have seizures, sometimes multiple per day, which made her unsafe in the workplace.
Brown who was 33 years old at the time, did not qualify for old age security benefits had already been denied Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) and Employment Insurance (EI). Applying for AISH was her last option.
“Between being sick and trying to deal with the doctors and stuff it took a little while to even start all of that or even know where I was supposed to go because nobody would tell me because I had been self-employed.” Brown said.
Once she received her denial letter, she had 30 days to send the letter back to appeal the verdict. Brown said that she sent the letter back. The AISH office said they did not receive her letter and she had missed her window for an appeal.
After phoning in to the office and speaking to a helpful worker, the minister extended her appeal window and on June 2015 she was able to sign the documents to begin her appeal process.
She was granted a formal appeal for Aug. 2016 where she would present her case in person to a panel to appeal her denial.
When she went to the appeal meeting, the panel decided to postpone her ruling because of a miscommunication between the AISH offices and Brown regarding which paperwork and additional information could be presented to the panel.
Her new hearing is scheduled with the same panel members for Nov. 28, 2016, three years and eight months after she originally submitted her application.
Brown has been unable to work since her seizures started in 2011. She has had no source of income since she began the process and has supported her daughter on child support payments from her former husband.
She has moved more than 10 times in five years because she has not been able to make her rent. She has spent time homeless. Brown, who has now settled back in St. Albert, is currently at least $26,000 in debt after trying to make ends meet after years with no income.
“The thing is stress triggers it [the seizures],” Brown said. “Every time I have to deal with it I get sicker.”
Brown says that when she was first diagnosed she was having multiple seizures a day. Now, on a good week, she is able to contain them to once or twice a week. During periods of high stress, like dealing with AISH, the number of seizures increases.
Her doctors have ordered her to stop driving. She now relies on public transportation and must use a service dog to help her with her seizures.
Brown has her final appeal meeting on Nov. 28, 2016, but she says she has lost any faith that she will be granted any money.
“Do I honestly think I’m going to win it?” Brown said. “No. I have no faith in it. I sit here and I optimistically say yes but honestly deep down inside, do I think I have a chance of winning this fight? No. Not a chance. I honestly don’t think I will see a dime come back from the government on this.”
If she does not win her appeal this month, Brown will reapply for AISH. She says that she has no other option but to keep trying