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One-eyed cancer patient pension rejected

AAP logoAAP 9/12/2016 Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

A 64-year-old Aboriginal man had his disability pension claim knocked back twice, despite having lost an eye, parts of his jaw and his nose due to cancer treatment.

The case is mentioned in a report by the commonwealth ombudsman released on Friday into accessibility of the disability support pension by remote indigenous people.

The unnamed man from remote Northern Territory had never attended school and could not read or write English.

As part of treatment for cancer, the man - known as Mr A - had major surgery including the removal of one eye, lymph nodes, substantial portions of his upper jaw, loss of his nasal cavity and extensive skin grafts from his leg.

He also underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Mr A first claimed DSP shortly after surgery and the medical report listed his operations.

It noted Mr A was predominantly in a wheelchair, could not eat or drink, had severely restricted breathing and severe, generalised weakening.

His doctor said he required 24 hour care, including assistance with all activities of daily living.

A government pension assessor, who spoke to Mr A by phone, concluded "current and future treatment may significantly improve symptoms of (Mr A's) condition" and his claim was rejected.

The assessor did not try to contact Mr A's doctor or seek extra information on his medical conditions or their impact on his ability to work.

Six months later Mr A, who was then being fed through a stomach tube, lodged a second claim but the second assessor merely looked at the existing file, did not talk to Mr A or his doctor and refused the claim.

When a lawyer stepped in to help Mr A, a government review officer granted the pension to Mr A from the date of his first claim.

The lawyer also lodged a complaint with the ombudsman, but an investigation did not go ahead because the claim had been granted.

The ombudsman recommended pension assessors obtain the "best possible evidence" to make their decisions and that their work be better evaluated, and the Department of Human Services work more closely with doctors in remote areas.

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