Applying, and being rejected for, the Disability Support Pension

So, you’ve been playing along right? I’ve been on JobSeeker since the start of the pandemic, working through some of it, getting some JobKeeper as well, before I lost my job as a disability support worker in July due to mental illness and substance use issues that interfered with my ability to care for others, let alone myself, safely. I have Borderline Personality Disorder.

I’ve had exemptions from looking for work most of the time I’ve been on JobSeeker and Newstart over the years, temporary reprieves from applying for a job a day, and being rejected for most, while also attending meetings with JobActive or Disability Employment Service (DES) providers, and anything else they send you to. I had a DES provider 6 years ago that helped me build my confidence and reference base with volunteer work with a special school, using my speech pathology skills and “passion for inclusive education” whatever that means in a segregated education setting… Anyways.

I got an exemption from job search straight after I lost the DSW job, a medical certificate and the the Job Capacity assessment giving me an exemption til March THIS year. it was possibly going to be extended but things happened, I drank over Christmas and summer and ended up in hospital with a Seroquel overdose attempt in February. I asked the hospital staff at that time if they though DSP or NDIS was worth applying for, and they flat out said no, they have severely ill people, way worse and psychotic than me, and they struggle to get them any disability support. So I took the medical certificate THEY gave me, and that covered me til after Easter, when I started engaging with the Salvos DES provider locally.

Sarah’s lovely. She’s based out of the Central Coast, only coming up to Toronto fortnightly, so I saw her then, or by phone. With a pause with Covid again of course. When things started to look like I needed to do job search again, I got another exemption. I’d been seeing a private therapist for a year now doing DBT skills, and she’d gotten me onto the waitlist for the Centre for Psychotherapy again, to do the full DBT course this time, as when I’d been with them 6 years before I did individual conversational model therapy, which was okay, and I ended up getting a job and a boyfriend and all that, but it was so very hard and had obviously worn off since! Front that exemption, because it was determined that they couldn’t actually give me a temporary exemption because my condition was permanent, and they got me to do a Job Capacity Assessment with one of their psychologists by phone. She said I certainly shouldn’t be working at the moment, particularly since I’d be starting intensive DBT soon, which involves a weekly hour individual session, a weekly 2.5 hour skills group and homework. Jody, I think her name was. She then went on to say that they best thing would to be to apply for the DSP, and that I should get in, since she figured all the years of therapy I had done before would count for the treated and stabilised criteria and that I hadn’t been working for a year already and would unlikely be working for another one. She I did. I put in the online application that day through MyGov. I then set about getting the letters and reports they wanted – discharge summaries from hospital, referral letters, letters from the psychiatrists at MH&SUS (Mental Health and Substance Use Service) where I’d been involved in their programs for over two years, a MASS of paperwork from my GP, since they don’t just get to fill out a form any more.

(on a side note, my GP told me on our phone appointment on Monday that he’s moving to Melbourne! I shed tears, been seeing him for 6 years. I’ll move to another doctor in the practice, but got it’s hard when you’ve found a good one to let them go!)

So, I get the required paperwork in on time by their due date. Then, I wait to come up for another capacity assessment. Meanwhile, I come off the waitlist at the centre for psychotherapy and start with the psychologists there. I get a date for the Job Capacity Assessment, it’s a Friday and then they change it to the next one. They advise me to get a letter from my new psychologist to add to their evidence. I make that phone call. THAT was awkward. He writes me one outlining what the treatment entails but tells me he couldn’t write a letter than supported the application as he believed that the therapy would have the intended effect and I would be way more capable of working or studying by the end of it. I also get a letter from my case manager at MH&SUS outlining my care and participation there. Cool.

The day of the phone assessment. 9am Friday November 5th. I take the call in my backyard, overlooking the creek. The assessor seems knowledgeable about substance use disorders and BPD. She’s less confident about my previous therapy counting as fully stabilised and treated as that was 5 years ago, and I’ve just started more therapy. The call drops out several times – could have been my phone reception or hers, she’s calling from up the coast somewhere as she refers to Newcastle as “down there”. I do the describe your worst day, what sets off my emotional overreactions, what causes me to self harm, what gets me suicidal and hopeless. Fun times.

I confirm that I can do the basics. I can shower, dress, cook, shop. I’m doing therapy. I’m literate. I’m intelligent. I have a partner that helps me, but I do a lot independently. Hell I’m doing this phone call alone because talking about this stuff is terrible, but I’d rather not do it in front of family, and friends isn’t really something I have, and I am honestly my best advocate. I’m capable of much, but everything I do do means one other thing gets left undone, or if I have a bad sleep, or someone looks at me the wrong way or I have an argument with a loved one, I crumble quite easily still. Hopefully this therapy will help with all that. We’re starting Emotional Regulation in the new year, have just done my first trip through Distress Tolerance. So I’m learning and applying more skills already, and I’m glad I have that for Xmas this year. But it’s a long road ahead.

The assessor (he name is Jo too? Maybe?) tells me she will be calling my psychologist and case manager and maybe my GP for more information. I’m nervous about this. My case manager says she got the call, and they spoke about how anxious I am, and how I’m doing well at the moment, but I need to stay working hard to stay sober, and I’m doing all I can with the weekly contact with her and daily Antabuse tablets.

She calls my new psychologist. We’ve been working together for nearly two months now. We met in person last year at my assessment, but we haven’t seen each other in person since starting therapy. We’ve set goals, talked about study, work, travel, politics, friends. He’s extremely optimistic about my future and keeps telling me how well I’m doing and that I’m grasping everything so fast since I’m smart and I’ve also got private therapy to kick start me before coming to him. He tells the assessor the same thing. Actually, he ignores her messages a couple of times because he knows that his evidence will all but certainly doom me to be classed as treatable and in treatment and so not “fully treated and stabilised”. Yeah. Can’t get anything past time.

Personally, this is putting a LOT of expectation on me, and sometimes I do well with a bit of expectation, but often I crumble. it’s completely a BPD thing, everything seems peachy and then the chaos demon comes out to play. That’s why the crisis survival skills are about literally surviving, not dying, and not making things worse in some way while in a heightened distressed emotional state. If you can ride it out, bide time, not make things worse then you’ve actually made things better, since you can go back to your regular programming and continue your life without having lost your licence or cut yourself, or enraged a loved one, or thrown yet another phone in anger.

Now we wait. The assessor has all the information. She’s state she will recommend a LONG exemption from mutual obligations while I’m undertaking DBT as it is such a commitment of time and mental energy and being able to completely focus on that, and work at my own pace towards any work or study goals with my therapy team will be more effective than having a DES provider hovering over my shoulder asking me to tick more boxes.

I get some information trickling through, pointing me to a rejection of my DSP application. The first is getting an appointment for my DES provider to call me on the 8th of December (my application is due for a judgement by the 5th). The next is the letter telling me I have been assessed as having reduced capacity. I also get a statement outlining my JobSeeker payment amount from December 16. Getting the hint here guys, just send the official rejection through already!

I’m checking my app several times an hour over the coming week. I try to apply some of the therapy skills to the situation, trying to accept that I need to wait for them to make or publish the decision, that they technically said the “estimated” completion date was Dec 6, that I’m not able to change anything by anxiously and obsessively checking for an update.

Close of business Friday Dec 3. No updates. I also check on MyGov. Nothing there either. I guess I wait til Monday?


6pm, Sunday December 5, I get a text through

Oh shit, better check it hey? I call on Twitter and my partner for moral support.

Computer says NO.

Am I surprised? No. Disappointed? Yes.

I was never going to get 20 points in a single category on the Impairment Tables as reviewed by the Gillard government in 2011. These tables are used to rank capacity of a person to take care of themselves and have little to do with work. By asking whether I can feed and dress myself, or shop independently, you’re not actually assessing my ability to obtain and keep employment, no matter now you twist it. They might actually be more appropriate for NDIS access, but assessment for that is a whole other kettle of fish designed to weed people out who need support but can’t argue their case.

I was hoping to get offered DSP on the basis of being unable to work for two years, along with them taking into account that I’ve done millions of therapy over the years and to reach a point where you could actually call someone with BPD fully treated and stabilised is such a vague notion and that’s exactly what they rely on. I KNOW I’ll be doing psychological therapies on and off for life. Hopefully I get breaks where I can be a bit more independent, but I fully expect to have mental health care plans every year because those ten subsidised sessions are a bare minimum for maintaining my mental health, because a session a month to ensure I’m on track and to have a professional to guide me through life is probably less than needed when you put it like that.

So, where to from here?

Well I’ll still be getting JobSeeker. I have a partner who is doing the NEIS program (edit Sat 11/12 just found out his payments for that ended last month, so no guaranteed income from that allowance anymore) and starting his own business car and boat detailing, but that’s still in its early days, so I get the couple rate of JobSeeker, $50 less than singles, and between us I only get rent assistance, because of whatever box it was and so I get the maximum rate, but that’s still minimal. We’re luckier than most, I have family support to pay the rent too, so we’re not going to be booted out, family agree that it’s better for all of us if they help me pay rent rather than ending up with my living in the back shed again, cos that’s not great for anyone.

So, I get JobSeeker payment. And I have an exemption from mutual obligations until June 15 2022, which we all know will be here before we know it! The DES provider will call every couple of months to confirm that I’m still attending therapy and am still alive.

But I don’t know if I’ll appeal, the only grounds I could possibly push on is that between losing my job and being able to recommence job search is going to be at least two years, and not guaranteed that I’ll be ready then? I WANT to work, I’ve been well conditioned to want to be a functioning member of society even when I fail at adulting over and over. I want to use my brains for the good of the world, whether that’s utilising my speech pathology degree and masters in inclusive education, or training further, or getting involved more in politics or lobbying, but I need to get mentally well first. I need to be able to take on more than the basic activities of daily living without returning to wiping myself on alcohol (more than 9 months sober atm) or sabotaging my relationships. I think DBT will help me with that, but I need the time and money to be able to focus on getting the most out of it. And I think DSP would have provided that and set me up better to work part time after therapy is done, but I’ll muddle through, as we all do.