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Opinion Pieces

Sep24

Squashed out from receiving disability? The new realities . . .

Friday, 24 September 2010 Written by // Bob Leahy - Publisher Categories // Opinion Pieces, Bob Leahy - Publisher

News from the States suggests it’s going to get much harder to qualify for HIV-related disability. In fact if you are newly diagnosed and your numbers look good . . .

 . . . , it sounds like it’s going to be pretty hard to get. It’s not yet clear what impact the suggested new guidelines for those already on disability will have, but it’s hard not to feel a little nervous about that. You can read the POZ story which talks about all this here.:

I mentioned this is a US story. But what happens in the US in the world of HIV can ultimately affect us pozzies in Canada. (I know “pozzies” is hardly a technical term, but sometimes I just tire of the alternatives.)  So potentially this seems like a hot potato, except I’m not sure that in the States and in fact in Canada too, it’s already pretty hard to qualify for HIV-related disability, whether we’re talking CPP, ODSP or employer-backed disability insurance. To a certain extent there’s logic to that. It’s sometimes entirely possible to continue to work post-diagnosis, to have your immune response at normal levels and with no hint of illness. That’s the reality of HIV in 2010.   Having said that, it’s still the case that newbie pozzies can have A LOT on their plate, manifesting itself in clinical depression and other debilitating conditions that make concentrating on work mighty difficult. I’m sure we’ve all been there, in fact.

I know when I was diagnosed – this was back in 1993 – my eligibility (or not) for long-term disability from my employer, a well known banking giant, was a source of much concern. In fact I was literally worried sick about it. Initially placed on short term disability, my CD4 numbers in those pre-treatment days were plummeting. Fortunately, short-term disability turned in to long term disability and I’ve stayed eligible ever since. This despite annual reviews requested of my doctor, an interview by an occupational therapist and a review of my case by an independent psychiatrist.   So . . despite no AIDS-defining illnesses I've been deemed unemployable,  Which is absolutely A OK with me.

In actual fact, for many years, the stress of not knowing whether I would continue to be eligible for disability insurance led to ongoing mental and physical health issues

In recent times, a bad case of peripheral neuropathy has left me more than a little unemployable. In a sense that has taken a weight of my mind. It’s ironic though, isn't it, that a decline in overall health can sometimes seem like a welcome development?

Anyway, that’s my story. The Poz article says that since the original criteria for receiving disability were created “HIV care has advanced and the disease has dramatically changed from a uniformly fatal condition to a potentially chronic manageable infection, in which CD4 cell recovery and a return to physical health—and ability to work—is an expected positive consequence of contemporary ARV treatment.  Conversely, a number of non-AIDS-related health complications are becoming increasingly prevalent among people living with HIV receiving ARV therapy—such as neurocognitive impairment, chronic kidney disease, osteoporosis and a number of treatment-associated side effects—many of which can cause disability and were not included in the original 1993 HIV Infection Listings.”  Peripheral neuropathy is actually included in that list.

All this is complicated by issues surrounding HIV and ageing, which I’ll comment on in a future post. In the meantime, I’d welcome comment - see below – from anyone whose experience with attempting to qualify for disability, either successfully or otherwise, is more recent than mine, and wants to share.  Their story, not their disability benefits, that is.

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