Re: Forms, lies, and advocacy

We are writing in response to your editorial [BCMJ 2014;56:213] in which you claim some advocacy groups help their clients complete disability forms that are "dishonest and, frankly, fraudulent" and are trying to help their clients by "lying to have people collect unjustified income supplements."

While we share your view that it would be wrong for any organization to help people fraudulently obtain benefits, we are writing to provide you with a different perspective. The BC Coalition of People with Disabilities (BCCPD) has been assisting individuals with applications and appeals related to disability benefits for more than 25 years. We do not solicit clients. People come to us for a variety of reasons. They may have hearing or visual limitations, mental illness, or cognitive impairments. Some simply do not have the use of their hands. Many physicians refer their patients to us because they know their patients do not have the skills needed to obtain the benefits that they are legitimately entitled to.

Some clients we serve may not have obvious disabilities. Conditions involving chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or posttraumatic stress disorder come to mind. Others who come to us are experiencing complications from surgery. Some have limited English language skills or may be illiterate.

Our doors are open to everyone who may need help.

Our advocates work hard to screen clients to determine if they may be eligible for the benefit they are seeking. Obviously some individuals lack insight about their limitations for various reasons, including mental health or cognitive issues. We expect doctors also encounter patients who are less than clear about their functional limitations. If someone tells an advocate they can't walk a block or climb two stairs and it later becomes clear that they can, it is hard to understand why anyone would then call the advocate a liar.

There are good reasons why most disability benefit programs require an opinion from a physician. Doctors are in the best position to provide objective medical evidence to verify an application for disability supports. Advocates help people describe their subjective circumstances but are not qualified to give medical opinions. However, many doctors have told us that they appreciate it when their patient comes to see them with a draft of a disability form that we have helped their patient complete based on the information they provide us with. If we use this strategy, we always explain clearly to the doctor that this is a guideline only and that we are not asking the physician to copy it for their evaluation of the patient. Doctors often tell us that they are swamped with paperwork and that our work with their patients saves them time.

Nonprofit organizations face intense scrutiny from their funders. Many of their advocates, including ours, are also supervised by legal counsel. With dwindling public resources, most nonprofits that work with people with disabilities are overwhelmed by the demands on their services. Your editorial gives the impression that you believe organizations such as ours are unaccountable and have nothing better to do than to help people drain the public treasury with fraudulent claims.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

--Jane Dyson
Executive Director, BCCPD
--Peter Beaudin
Senior Advocate, BCCPD

Jane Dyson,, Peter Beaudin,. Re: Forms, lies, and advocacy. BCMJ, Vol. 56, No. 7, September, 2014, Page(s) 316-317 - Letters.

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