A man living with a disability who featured in ads across the country for the National Disability Insurance Scheme when it launched has had his own NDIS application rejected.
Jeremy Hawkes, 46, from Goonellabah in northern New South Wales, lives with Parkinsonism and chronic pain from a work-related spinal injury. In 2013, he was cast in a nationwide NDIS ad campaign.
Mr Hawkes said when he received a letter this year informing him that his application was rejected, he was devastated.
“I was quite shocked, really quite shocked,” he said.
“Everyone I’d spoken to assured me I’d have no issue, and I’d sent them such detailed medical reports — like 11 years of medical records describing my various issues.”
The rejection letter said he did not meet the scheme’s requirements — that he did not have substantially reduced functional capacity in communication, mobility, self-care and self-management.
He said he immediately started the appeal process, “but I must admit I got hit by a big wave of depression and went down for a couple of months. It really knocked the wind out of my sails”.
‘I don’t eat for days because I can’t manage it’
He said he disputed the rejection letter’s claim.
“Self-care and self-management are the big ones for me. I have times where I really struggle with those; being able to go to the shops, cook myself dinner, organise all these appointments,” Mr Hawkes said.
“Just looking after myself on a day-to-day level is increasingly difficult. There are times where I don’t eat for days because I can’t manage it.”
Mr Hawkes said he spent months working on his application, after the scheme rolled out in the Northern Rivers last July.
He was cast in the commercial after hearing about it on social media in 2013.
“Everyone with a disability was sharing that they were doing a casting call for a new ad and everyone wanted to be on it. So I went along to the audition, and I got cast,” he said
Mr Hawkes said a woman at the head office of NDIS was present during filming in 2013, and “assured” him he would be eligible for the scheme.
“She assured me, on a personal level, that I would be able to receive the NDIS. There would be no doubt about that,” he said.
Man led to believe he was eligible, advocate says
Disability advocate lawyer Dona Graham said she was shocked someone who featured in NDIS’ launch campaign would be denied its services.
She said Mr Hawkes was led to believe he was eligible.
“To find out in fact he wasn’t eligible, that’s incredibly insensitive,” she said.
Mr Hawkes said he understood his involvement in the campaign did not automatically qualify him for the scheme.
“I don’t want this to be all about me saying ‘I was on the ad therefore I deserve NDIS funding’, a line needs to be drawn somewhere,” he said.
“But the biggest issue for me is the complexity of the paperwork that is required, and you don’t get any assistance in doing that and it’s not something that can be done in a day or a week.
“It takes months and months and months.”
Application process a struggle
Ms Graham said many people struggled with the application and review process.
“When you’re wanting to apply to the NDIS, there’s actually nobody on your side,” she said.
“You don’t have access to an advocate.
“You’ve got to explain, justify and argue and lobby for what you need — they’re not there to tell you what you actually eligible for.
“You’re actually not being supported. It’s incredibly complex and financially it’s out of most people’s purview.”
Ms Graham said the solution was more resources.
“When the NDIS was first envisioned, it was acknowledged you needed 30,000 staff across the nation to implement,” she said.
“The government funded less than 10,000 so from day one this has been compromised. It’s why we’ve had all the problems.
“The minister needs to step up and take responsibility for it and adequately fund it.”
A spokesperson for Social Services Minister Dan Tehan said the minister did not comment on individual cases.
A statement by the National Disability Insurance Agency said it could not comment on Mr Hawkes’ case for privacy reasons.
“Any person who is eligible for the NDIS will receive the reasonable and necessary supports they need,” the statement said.