A wheelchair-bound university student has claimed that Centrelink denied her disability assistance because she is ‘not disabled enough’.
Carmel Johnson told 7 News Online she had been sick all her life. “Growing up I was often told by doctor after doctor that I needed to eat different, exercise more, I was told everyone gets a bit of pain or depression,” she said.
The 23-year-old University of Adelaide student said that she would be absent from school for a couple of months at a time due to swine flu and glandular fever because of her low immune system.
Finally in May, Carmel was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder which resulted to multiple chronic conditions.
Yet, despite being ill most of the time, Carmel had a few years of improved health at the end of high school, but it ended after she travelled to Vietnam in 2013, and now, she knew she had to accept that she will be in and out of hospital for the rest of her life and that she would have to be either in a wheelchair, walker and walking sticks just to keep her on her feet.
Because of her condition, her medical costs are rapidly increasing, many of which aren’t covered by Medicare, amounting to almost $1700 a week, causing a major toll on her family. So she went to Centrelink to ask for help covering the exponential costs.
She said that she was given four days to finish her requirements and was told to write down all her diagnosis and symptoms. “I have over 100. If I couldn’t prove the symptoms would last for the next two years, I couldn’t qualify for a disability pension,” Carmel said. “I went home and frantically called all my specialists trying to get as many letters together as possible.”
Four days later, she returned to Centrelink along with her mother and were told that everything seemed okay.
However, after two days, Centrelink informed Carmel that her application had been denied as most of her medical conditions were not recognised in Australia.
“They called me up and said you’ll need to book an appointment so you can start looking for work,” she added. “I sort of laughed, I can’t even stand up or eat, my memory is shot – I would be absolutely useless at any job.
“Everything [at Centrelink] is becoming more computerised, you don’t really have people looking at your case. There’s a computer system deciding whether you are disabled enough.”
Disappointed, Carmel shared her story through her GoFundMe and Instagram pages, and almost instantly, a Centrelink representative contacted her to tell her she could reapply for her disability pension.
As she prepares to spend another night in Flinders Hospital, Carmel knows more people just like her are missing out on disability pensions and it’s heartbreaking.
“Just because I may not look disabled doesn’t mean I’m not, people can’t see what’s going inside my body… the reality is auto-immune diseases can rear their ugly heads in your 20s,” Carmel said.
A Centrelink spokesperson told 7 News Online the most common reason Disability Support Pension claims are rejected is because criteria are not met. “Under legislation, medical conditions must be permanent, fully diagnosed, treated and stabilised before the department’s health professionals are able to assess the functional impact of those conditions,” the spokesperson said, adding that Centrelink has since reached out to Carmel.