Army veteran and firefighter's epic battle with Centrelink
AN ARMY veteran and former Rockhampton fire fighter has been knocked back from a Disability Pension three times in two years despite his well-documented health problems.
Jeffrey Preston, 57, currently receives a part pension through the Department of Veterans Affairs and his wife was granted a carers pension in 2017 to look after him, but Centrelink have rejected three Disability Pension applications in the past two years and now he is required to apply for 20 jobs a month.
Jeff's wife Jo is so stressed by the struggle to get her husband help that she has high blood pressure and depression.
The stress was evident in her voice, facial expressions and body language as she sat down with The Morning Bulletin last week to tell her husband's story and go through medical documents showing what health problems Jeff has that makes it impossible for him to carry out any kind of employment.
He had been working in a Central Queensland mine when he had a physical health and mental health breakdown which led to a full physical examination resulting in being deemed unfit to work.
Jeff said he recalled taking lots of pain killers while working at the mines, but lost count of doses.
Jo said it was discovered during the full physical examination that Jeff was suffering from a degenerative spinal condition doctors have linked to carrying heavy packs in the Army and jogging with those packs on.
Jeff's work history: Horror scenes led to PTSD for former Rocky firefighter
Jo said while they were in WA they had a Department of Veterans Affairs advocate who helped them get the part pension, along with aides and sock pullers.
The couple started the Disability Pension application process while living in Western Australia where they were living near one of their daughters. They moved back to Queensland where they had more support from family and friends and returned to the Rockhampton region late last year.
Jo said the first application submitted on November 7, 2017.
"When I rang, .... I was told not to bother because it wouldn't be accepted," she said.
She said they were told the information was not comprehensive enough.
Jo said the Western Australian Centrelink staff accepted all of Jeff's medical records but Queensland would not, particularly his latest medical certificate.
She said she had been told different things by three different people from different departments of Centrelink about wording about his condition being permanent or temporary.
Jo said between the first application and the second, Jeff had his left knee replacement surgery and at Centrelink's request, a psychologist's report which showed he had PTSD and depression.
All reports were uploaded, including a fresh pain medication report, on April 26, 2018.
The second application was refused a short time later.
The third application was submitted after his right knee replacement.
"On the February 11, 2019, my husband was called into the Rockhampton Centrelink office for an interview, he was not having a good day, and went in with his wheelie walker which he seems to have transitioned from his walking stick to his wheelie walker more often now," Jo said.
"Centrelink discussed with my husband that he had to for fill his job requirements as he is only on New start Allowance, and has to now look for 20 jobs a month.
"After our visit to the Rockhampton Centrelink Office, we were advised to put a new claim in for Disability, which I did do, but due to not having 'up to date' medical evidence we were rung and told his claim was rejected yet again on February 15.
"I did try to explain that all the relevant information regarding my husbands condition was up to date way back in 2017, and 2018, however we were told that we had to show that his condition was stabilised and no further treatment was required.
"How can this happen, my husband's condition is degenerative, he has short term memory loss, depression, anxiety, PTSD, both knees have been replaced, has hearing aids, and now due to past tablets, suffers short term memory loss, has burning sensation and pins and needles down his arms right down to his fingers, thus resulting in poor sleep, due to his deteriorating condition.
"He recently fell over in the back yard and bruised his left hip as he fell over.
"I have seen my husband go from being able to cope on his own to not even being able to drive down the road and get fuel for our car, as he recently forgot his pin number and I had to gain a lift to go rescue him, my husband can no longer complete his own affairs, and is very dependent on me.
"If he does not know where I am, (at all times) he panic's. I can no longer leave him by himself.
"We moved in with my youngest daughter in early December 2018, as I can no longer cope with everything on my own, as I now suffer from high blood pressure and have recently been diagnosed with depression."
She said the latest medical report Centrelink requires will cost them $2400 to get.
The Morning Bulletin contacted Centrelink asking why was Jeff's Disability Pension application rejected - seeking individual explanations for each rejection - along with how they could approve Jo's Carer's Pension to care for someone who does not have a Disability Pension.
The Bulletin also asked how Centrelink expects people with medical histories like Jeffs to work, let alone apply for 20 jobs a month, and how they are expected
Centrelink response said:
"We have recently been in contact with Mr and Mrs Preston and will continue to work closely with them to ensure they are receiving the appropriate support.
"We recognise medical conditions can have a significant impact on people's lives, however, we do not have any discretion to grant payment outside the very clear criteria set down in legislation.
"People who claim Disability Support Pension need to provide all relevant medical evidence about their condition(s). This ensures we are able to comprehensively assess the medical eligibility for the payment.
"Medical evidence is carefully considered by allied health professionals, employed by the department, who are trained to assess evidence against the legislated eligibility criteria.
"Due to privacy, we are unable to provided comment about people's specific circumstances."
Jeff's medical history
- A report from August 18, 2016, states Jeff has a degenerative facet joint arthropathy in the lower lumbar spine, grade one anterolisthesis of L4 over L5; along with sclerosis adjacent to the right sacroiliac joint.
- The report also recommended further evaluation with CT of the lumbosacral spine and both sacroiliac joints.
- A report later that month found Jeff has severe osteoarthritis in the right sacroiliac joint and moderate osteoarthritis in the left one.
- There was more medical notes about other parts of Jeff's spinal problems in the report.
- Jeff then had his knees examined which doctors found severe oesteoarthritis in both knees.
- The medical documents show Jeff injured in right knee while in the Army and underwent a bilateral hernia repair in 2006, followed by a repair of an abdominal hernia in 2009.
- In a letter written by Jeff's then doctor to the mining company Jeff had been working for, states "he has severe narrowing of the spinal canal at multiple levels and marked sacroiliac joint OA. These problems would be exacerbated by walking and sitting and he would be unable to work or stand for any length of time. He has considerable pain which is made worse by prolonged sitting and standing."
- Jeff started using a walking stick in November 2016 due to back pain and bilateral knee pain.
- By February 2017, Jeff was placed on the following medications: Lexapro 10mg, Endep 10mg, Panadol and Panadol Osteo, Panadeine Forte and Diazepem.
- At the time, a doctor noted Jeff needed a number of surgeries on his knees and spine before being able to consider working again, but his injury was "now stable and stationary".
- Jo has a school workbook where she records what medications Jeff has been placed on over the years.
- A report the following month after xrays were taken shows tricompartmental degenerative change is seen in both knees with the right knee worse than the left.
- Another report days later about Jeff's spine stated he had mild spinal canal narrowing at L4/5 with marked degenerative facet arthropathy and very large joint effusions, and a central annular tear at L5/S1.
- In April 2017, a report about Jeff's hearing capacity showed he had hearing loss in both ears with the left being severe. He had intermittent vertigo and bilateral tinnitus.
- Reports in July 2017 and October 2017 reiterate findings from previous reports.
- A psychologist report in April 2018 states "it came to light Jeff is suffering from symptoms of PTSD from trauma experienced while he was in the Fire Brigade for 18 years. He experiences nightmares, flashbacks, poor short term memory, hypervigilence, cognitive, emotional, and behavioural avoidance, he has sense of foreshortened future, he feels jumpy and nervous, he feels angry more than usual at the moment."
- Jeff had a total knee replacement in June 2018 on his right knee.
- A report from July 30, 2018, shows Jeff's spinal conditions and documents were reviewed by Dr Gabriel Lee who suggested no operative correction and to manage the conditions with medications.
Centrelink Background Information
Eligibility for Disability Support Pension is determined by assessing an individual's ability and the impact that a condition has on their capacity to work.
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.
A condition is regarded as fully diagnosed, treated and stabilised if the condition has been diagnosed by an appropriately qualified medical practitioner and all reasonable treatment options have been undertaken and there will be no significant functional improvement within the next two years.
People have a right to request a review of a decision to reject a claim - including where their circumstances change, or they have additional information or evidence that indicates a change to their condition.
A person can also lodge a new claim for DSP if their circumstances change. If a condition deteriorates, or someone has new medical evidence, they should provide that information to the department so we can assess the most suitable support for their circumstances.
Recipients of Newstart Allowance may be able to claim temporary exemptions from mutual obligations because of medical conditions, and they should contact us or their employment services provider to discuss any changes to their circumstances.
Further information about DSP and what evidence is required to support claims, is available on our website humanservices.gov.au/DSP