29 July 2016

Letter to the Minister for Sport and Persons with Disabilities

to The Honourable Carla Qualtrough

RE: Support for Canadians who are ‘almost’ disabled

In February of 2011, I was diagnosed with Delayed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. At first, I thought that with a few weeks off work and some intensive therapy work I’d be okay … then I thought, well, maybe six months … then maybe a year … and now, five and a half years later, I realize this is not going to go away.

I did apply for CPP Disability but was denied. You see, I tried hard to do what I could – I thought a gradual return would probably work for me. I first tried self-employment (running an online craft supply store), and when that was too much, I obtained my first aid instructor certification and taught classes for a company that was extremely flexible and understanding of my health issues. After a little over a year, though, I realized that I was making too many errors and that the strain was adversely affecting me, so I felt it best to resign. During this time, I applied for CPP but was informed that because I was able to do part time work, I did not qualify for benefits. When I appealed the decision, after winding up the store, downsizing my hobby farm, and resigning from teaching, I was told that because I’ve written a couple of books and have residual income from their publication, and because I’ve stabilized to some extent with medication and treatment, I still don’t qualify.
I’m not quite sure what sort of employment the Powers That Be expect me to take on: even the most flexible and understanding of employers is not going to be happy with an employee who lives with fluctuating levels of fatigue and mental competency. It’s also important to realize that the primary reason I have stabilized is that I’ve resized my life to fit my limitations … yes, I’m no longer suicidal on a regular basis and I am more comfortable overall. This is not evidence that I ought to be working, it’s evidence that accepting my limitations has improved my health.

And now, even if I could convince the appeals board that my psychiatrist and psychologist agree that even part time employment would be unwise, it’s been too long since I worked full time and so I cannot apply for CPP Disability again. Had I crashed hard at the beginning, I’d have qualified … but because I held on as long as I could and did as much as possible to return to the workforce, the delayed recognition that my condition is chronic and more disabling than I had anticipated has disqualified me from obtaining benefits, despite having contributed for over twenty years.
I am fortunate that my husband has a well-paying job and that my family are supportive and take good care of me. It is, however, disconcerting to know that should my husband lose his job (a real possibility, as he’s employed in the oil field), or should I find myself unwelcome in my home (it happened before … the associated mess is how I ended up with PTSD), I’m not well enough to take up the economic slack and there are no safety nets to catch me.

I would ask that the government consider making space for those of us who have tried our best and not overcome our personal obstacles. The five-year window for CPP disability application seems to specifically exclude those who make every effort to remain in the workforce and then either decompensate further with time, or find that even flexible self-employment is too much.
I would also ask that the government consider expanding the criteria for the Disability Tax Credit to open the door for those of us who are ‘on the edge’ of being disabled. People like me are dependent on the good graces of our spouses and families, and that’s a scary place to be. If there were a category for people who “manage most of the activities of daily living in their current environs but require support and oversight”, this would ensure that should circumstances change we are already noted as being vulnerable and would expedite the initiation of additional supports in case of crisis. This would also provide a measure of financial security through the Disability Savings program.

I am very pleased to see the changes that our new Liberal government has brought about, and I hope that in sharing my experience I can help you in the development of the new Canadians with Disabilities Act. Those of us with impairments – both visible and invisible, severe and moderate - look to you for support and protection. Please keep the needs of the “borderline disabled” in mind as you implement change: just because we are more or less coping with things at the moment, just because we look like we are doing okay, just because we have found ourselves in a safe place for the present … none of that means we aren’t vulnerable. And as Canadians, we know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: please put protections in place to catch us before we fall, so that we can continue to contribute as much as we can and not draw on the public resources any more than necessary.

I have included a copy of my book, Just Keep Knitting, which I wrote early on in my journey with PTSD, if you’d like to learn more of my background and how I ended up where I am, or feel free to pass it on to someone who might find it helpful.

Thank you so very much for your time,


Lonna Cunningham B.Sc. B.A.(Hon)

Alberta, Canada

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