Howard's End: ACC Victimisation
Imagine you have a good job and you've planned the lives of your family and your financial commitments around your success, but then your boss approaches you and says that from this afternoon, the law now requires that - through no fault of your own or the company you work for - you are required to take a 20% pay cut. That is the life of an ACC claimant, or as I call them, victims. Maree Howard writes.
It's the early 1990's. You are in your upper-thirties, you have a nice family home which is mortgaged up to the hilt, you have a great wife/husband and a couple of lovely children which everyone adores.
Things are looking rosy for the future.
As you drive home from work on this particular day through no fault of your own, you are involved in a serious accident.
Apart from your pain, your disorientation, your smashed body, your uncertain future, you and your family, are now the victims of Accident Compensation law.
At that very moment, on the other side of town, a person crossing on a pedestrian crossing whom you don't know, has been hit by a car driven by a drunk driver.
And in another city, a young man has accidentally slipped from a scaffold and lies twisted on the ground with head injures and multiple fractures to his limbs.
At the beach in yet another city a surfer riding the waves has been dashed onto the rocks, breaking his spine and leaving him a tetraplegic - for life.
This daily scenario has been repeated endlessly across New Zealand, and has been since 1972 when the Accident Compensation law first became effective.
On that day in 1972, New Zealanders gave up their valued and valuable right to sue in exchange for receiving compensation and rehabilitation for their personal injuries from their accidents - no matter who was at fault.
But in each and every case since, the law has immediately intervened and says that from them on you, and by implication your family, must take a 20% pay cut, perhaps until you die.
There are thousands of similar stories - in fact, there are around 15,000 of them still fighting a battle for justice to get nothing more than what they are legally entitled to.
Take young Jenny (not her real name).
She writes; "I've decided that it's time to tell part of my long ordeal that I have experienced with ACC. I do have a review hearing pending and I didn't want to jeopardise anything, however, reading all the articles here and the Scoop articles I thought it was time for me to let people know what's happening in my little corner of the world.
“My boyfriend broke his neck after a recreational accident, I was in my mid teens at the time and had to leave my job to do his cares.
“About three years after his accident is when all the trouble started with ACC. Through cutting back my partners attendant care I was forced to go back to work (nursing), this meant that I had to leave my partner at home with our then one-year-old baby which he couldn't care for.
“I asked ACC if they would help pay for child-care for the baby due to his disability (tetraplegic) however this request was turned down. I would get phone calls at work to say that something had happened and more often than not, I would have to go home.
“One night I came home to find my baby had swallowed a coin and choked - my husband was helpless. Luckily for us, a neighbour had come to visit and walked in an saved my baby's life.
“After this I left my job.
“I rang ACC and told them of our situation and said that we needed more care and they were less than sympathetic.
“Through the hardship that I felt ACC put us through, I had to get another job only to come home and find my husband on the floor in a pool of blood. Not to mention all the other injuries that have not required hospital treatment. I phoned an ACC officer and told her that my husband needed more care from the injuries that he sustained while left alone - she said that if I didn't like it I could leave.
“We have had to call on friends, neighbours, family, to help me with my husband on many occasions for various tasks including personal care.
“One time when a miscarriage of a new baby was threatened, I phoned an ACC officer to get 24 hour home-care for my husband so I could rest. The ACC officer told me that as far as she was concerned he had enough nursing hours already - that was about 45 hours per week.
“I lost the baby a while later and have since been told my obstetrician that it was likely to have been the heavy lifting that would have caused it.
“I'm on call for my partners' needs many times throughout the day because he has fallen out of his wheelchair, needs lunch, and a whole lot of other life's nuisances that he cannot do. (Not for the want of trying.) ACC will not acknowledge this care so I'm the one who has to provide it.
“I feel like I have lost my life but I'm not going to leave because ACC will not acknowledge the level of care my husband requires. An OT (Occupational Therapist) told my husband that if he sat in his chair and not tried to do these things he would not find himself in strife.
“About four years ago we got a phone call from an ACC officer saying that there had been an oversight of attendant care payments and that could we go into the office to see her the next day.
“I was so scared that I didn't ask any questions, said yes, then hung up the phone and burst into tears as on the Monday following we had an appointment with the bank to sort our what I thought was a mortgagee sale because ACC might cut back more on attendant care.
“We went to the ACC office the next day and was greeted by my husband's ACC officer. As I went to sit down she passed my husband a letter and said: ‘As a representative of ACC I apologise for any hardship we may have caused, but I feel that I shouldn't have to say it anyway.’
“With that, I looked at the letter which was for compensation of back-dated attendant care for 4 years. This did not include grievance, hardship or compensation for my lost employment. I burst into tears not for happiness, but with anger for my lost teenage years, for the hardship, and the baby we lost.
“No amount of money will ever compensate for what they put us through. If we'd had the care that my husband was entitled to, none of this would have happened. No care however was increased after that meeting and yet my husband still needs the same amount of care that he required 12 years ago - and so the fight still goes on.
“It's a fact, that if I lived next door and did my partners care he would be getting it for 24 hours, but because I'm his wife and live with him I've been told (by an OT) and ACC that it is my duty.
“We've had a lot of so-called independent assessments from OT's, however, when we tell them our needs they say that they will only apply for what they feel ACC will accept. One OT wrote an assessment that supported the need for more care, however, this OT was told by the ACC officer that she had to re-write the report as they didn't like the way it was written.
“We have had two independent assessments conducted by specialists that support the 24 hour care, however, ACC will not accept them and the case just seems to be going on and on.
“My partner requires constant attendance, turning him in bed 3 or 4 times a night, cleaning him after he has had an accident in bed, making sure he hasn't fallen out of his wheelchair throughout the day, giving him his meals, showering him, toileting him, helping with basic grooming and lifting him out of bed into his wheelchair.
“And all the while praying that he doesn't have a bladder or bowel accident at any time and you have to repeat all of the above and then leap into the car and run errands and look after our two children that he cannot help care for.
“And I hope you don't want to get paid for all this care, or want time-out, because you are shit out of luck. No holiday pay, no holidays, no respite care and forget all about any outside interests - you're not allowed to have that. ACC won't give you your full entitlements.
“So there you have it - about 1/4 of it anyway, it's too long to write all of it. Maybe I'll write a book."
And then there's Jack (not his real name.)
He wrote to Scoop; "I can understand the story you covered regarding a person waiting for a shower for 12 months. I waited for 3 years for a shower area, and until that time I had to lift my wife into the bath and held her like bathing a baby. I personally hold the ACC Board and the Minister liable for the complete disaster that is ACC - they are, after all, in charge."
And then there's Graham; (not his real name either.) Who was told by his ACC case manager that being a father was a work capacity.
"My wife and I had foster children for many years and had not long accepted full guardianship of a little girl. She put pressure on me to increase my hours in the minimal part-time job I was doing or face WRAP (being dumped.) I was really worried as stress and brain injury are bad partners, so I increased my hours despite telling her that I was having trouble coping anyway. The upshot was I had to give up this job as I started to suffer multi-chemical sensitivity which is a real problem."
And then there's the woman who received a copy of her ACC file and discovered where a case manager had written; "I wonder what it would be like having sex with her disabilities."
And what about Frank; (Not his real name either.) He owned a small farm, seriously injured himself, but was told by ACC to increase the number of animals on his farm.
His lawyer subsequently wrote to ACC that the animals were knocking him about because he couldn't get out of the way fast enough.
Scoop has a copy of the notation from his file which says; "See, even his animals don't like him."
And now, one claimant has written that ACC has managed to gather around itself miraculous medical healers who cure people and make them fit for all manner of wondrous occupations with one stroke of their mighty pen.
Scoop also has possession of an ACC official form which instructs medical practitioners what to do - although they are supposed to be independent.
This ACC form 525 requires the doctor to assess a person for 35 hours work at an Initial Medical Assessment, when the law suggests quite the opposite. 35 hours is Vocational Independence not Vocational Rehabilitation.
Some claimants are talking to the Registrar of the High Court today about bringing an application for a declaratory judgement on the meaning of sections of the Act.
Scoop has also received a letter from ACC Manager Ministerial Services, Jamie Thompson, which says " .....ACC is required to assist a claimant achieve their maximum degree of independence."
Actually, Mr Thompson has neglected to tell us the whole story. The IPRC Act 2001 actually says;
" ...the focus should be on rehabilitation with the goal of achieving an appropriate quality of life through the provision of entitlements that restores to the maximum practicable extent a claimant's health, participation and independence."
Obviously, the accident claimants' health through treatment must come first, (physical and mental), then participation through social rehabilitation and finally independence through vocational rehabilitation and training or re-training. - that was what Parliament intended, and that is what ACC has a public duty to do.
The ACC system as it stands, is an absolute and unredeemable mess with long-term claimants now being referred to as "Stock" in official documents.
I can think of no more degrading term for a human being than to be described as "stock". That attitude towards injured people seems to exist within ACC from the very top of its hierarchy to the very bottom.
This ACC Minister and this Government, led by a so-called caring Labour Party, should hang their heads in shame. This behaviour by ACC has gone on long enough.
It is a scheme for which the public pays $2 billion each year - and it has gone berserk.
As one female claimant recently told Scoop; " I feel so terribly ashamed to be called a New Zealander.