A Saskatchewan woman who helps people apply for benefits under the Canada Pension Plan says the federal government's appeal process is a "David and Goliath" battle.
'The CPP, or the federal government, has all of the resources and the person making the application — who has the disability — has probably minimal.' - Disability claims advocate Allison Schmidt
Allison Schmidt, a Regina-based disability advocate with about 200 clients, is currently working with Suzanne Fincaryk, who has been waiting nearly two years for her appeal to be heard.
"They really make you run through a lot of hoops, which I can understand because they don't want to make it easy for everybody," Fincaryk told CBC News in a recent interview. "But it's ridiculous. It's gone beyond making it difficult."
Fincaryk lives in Preeceville, Sask., having moved there to be closer to family after suffering a serious heart attack, her second in ten years, that left her with some cognitive impairment. Unable to work, she applied for disability benefits through the Canada Pension Plan.
When that was refused she appealed, but her case is stalled in federal bureaucracy.
Schmidt says the situation facing Fincaryk, and many other clients, is not fair.
"It's almost like David and Goliath," Schmidt said. "The CPP, or the federal government, has all of the resources and the person making the application — who has the disability — has probably minimal [resources]."
Schmidt says few people have the money to produce medical reports or finance independent assessments to support their claims.
Backlog of 7,000 cases
What's more, according to information Schmidt received by filing an Access to Information request, there is a major backlog facing the Social Security Tribunal, which reviews denied claims.
She learned there are about 7,000 cases waiting to be heard by a tribunal. And, according to Schmidt, the tribunal has only 35 adjudicators assigned to disability files.
No immediate response from Social Security Tribunal
CBC News contacted the tribunal who said they would not be able to respond to an interview request right away.
Schmidt says she has had one client die while waiting on an appeal. Others exhaust all their savings.
"While they're waiting sometimes they have to go on to social services and that is very difficult for them," Schmidt said. "But people can't sustain themselves financially for years at a time. They end up using all their retirement savings or using all their personal savings just to make the bills."
While Fincaryk waits, and hopes, she is getting by with support from her parents and a provincial benefit program.
Schmidt says, in her experience, officials routinely turn down about 60 per cent of cases at every stage — from the initial application through to an appeal before the Social Security Tribunal.
Her advice, for people seeking a disability benefit, is to pay close attention to the initial application to ensure it has all the information the government wants and all the documents needed to support a claim.