Woman refused disability pension after devastating brain injury

A former cop has been denied the disability pension despite suffering from a devastating brain injury.

Cat Watkinson ruptured her spleen and smashed her head on the concrete in a workplace fall two years ago. She suffered a brain injury, which brought on symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

“Because it came under workers’ comp I had to go do an MRI and after the MRI that’s when they discovered I had multiple sclerosis,” the 39-year-old told Today Tonight.

Ms Watkinson, a former police officer and 240-tonne truck driver at the mines, had worked since the age of 16.

But when the MS diagnosis was made in February last year, she went to Centrelink for the first time in her life to apply for a disability support pension.

Cat Watkinson had been working since she was 16. Source: Today Tonight

Despite her having virtually no short-term memory, her application for assistance was denied.

To be eligible for the pension, a person needs to have actively participated in a program of support to help find and keep work.

“I’m not able to walk let alone be out working unfortunately,” Ms Watkinson said.

She appealed the decision with a letter from her neurologist that said she suffered from symptoms – such as off-balance, clumsiness, visual impairment, intermittent incontinence and cognitive impairment to the level of mild to moderate dementia.

“The idea of Ms Watkinson getting back to work in any meaningful capacity is unfortunately laughable,” the doctor claimed.

Ms Watkinson said she would love to have a job because work used to be her life.

Cat Watkinson injured her leg in a workplace fall two years ago. Source: Today Tonight

The Department of Human Services told Today Tonight it “does not have any discretion to grant payments outside the very clear criteria set down in legislation”.

Marcus Stafford, from the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Western Australia, said people with neurological issues often came up against bureaucratic hurdles.

“When her neurologist puts in writing words like ‘laughable’ and ‘nonsensical’, it just implies that the decision is totally wrong,” he told Today Tonight.

Mr Stafford said the original decision for clear criteria was to protect the taxpayer, to make sure they were not paying for people who were rorting the system.

“But now we’re dealing with real and genuine people who are finding themselves on the wrong side of crazy decisions,” he said.

Marcus Stafford says Cat Watkinson deserves the payment. Source: Today Tonight

Ms Watkinson’s appeal is still pending, 16 months after first applying for the disability pension.

“Just really got to look at the person’s situation and go on that,” she said.

Mr Stafford said Ms Watkinson was a responsible, giving member of the community and it was time she was given something back.

“She is somebody who absolutely qualifies for this particular scheme,” he said.

Ms Watkinson told Today Tonight it was “not good enough”.

“Unfortunately not everyone’s able to be out working,” she said.