Now, a quick timeline. I applied for DLA again in February 2008. I was turned down and asked for an appeal. This took until October 2008 to arrange. I won and a backdated award was made, for two years starting from February 2008 when I had first applied. So the award expires in February 2010.
As such, I got a renewal pack in October 2009 - they give you plenty of time so that you have a chance to access support from the Citizen's Advice Bureau or similar organisations. In November I sent off the completed renewal pack, including:
- Their 40-page form, completed with the basic and general answers.
- A typed 26-page document giving the more detailed answers they ask you to provide to their questions, including information about good and bad days, equipment I use and how I use it, support I receive and so on, because these answers just don't fit into answer-spaces the size of a credit card on the form.
- A copy of my current medication and equipment prescriptions.
- A copy of my Social Services care plan and contact details for my social worker, occupational therapist, GP, Access to Work adviser and everyone else associated with my disability needs.
- A statement from Steve as someone who lives with me.
- A statement from my PA as a person who is paid to look after me.
- A medical report from the ME/CFS specialist who formally assessed and diagnosed me.
In addition they will have written to my GP for her opinion, and she will have written back in support of my application, just like she did last time.
But they say that they "do not have enough information."
They want me to be examined by a doctor from ATOS healthcare next week.
I'm not entirely sure what that doctor is supposed to discover in his 20-60 minute session that has not already been provided in my own testimony and corroborated by several different types of person associated with my care. Especially considering that there are no easy or visible diagnostic criteria for ME/CFS. It's not like counting the limbs of someone who claimed on their form to have had two legs amputated and going "yep, looks like you are right after all". Variable and invisible conditions are a little more complicated.
He will be coming to my house, so I have a glimmer of hope that he just wants to check that I do have the assistive devices I claimed to use and that they're not covered in dust, that my to-do list doesn't include renewing my subscription to Hill Walker Weekly, and that I say "ow" often enough.
But even though I tell myself this... even though I know I successfully appealed once and can do it again if I have to... even though I know I have not lied on my forms... even though I know the doctor will get paid regardless of what he says about me... I've known a few too many people with a few too many horror stories about medical examinations for benefits purposes, up to and including doctors getting a claimant's condition wrong, writing down things they had not asked about and could not possibly have observed, bullying claimants into signing blank forms, and in one memorable instance, ticking the wrong gender box.
I think it's like when people are pregnant, and everyone comes forward with the stories of six weeks of labour, of a hundred stitches inside and out, of the midwife being busy and the cleaner having to do an emergency C-section using only a biro... and even though you know it probably won't happen to you, it preys on your mind. What I could do with right now, if anyone has the time, is a few comments saying "I had an ATOS medical examination, it wasn't a problem, the doctor was on time, he was nice, he listened to what I said before writing it down, let me take my time, and a few weeks later I was given an indefinite award at what I feel was the correct level."