Disability

Cancer survivor wins appeal to have assistance dog funding included in NDIS plan after three-year battle

A close up of Centrelink and NDIS signage in Norwood, Adelaide. Thursday, April 16, 2020. Source: AAP

The woman, a 63-year-old living in Queensland, first sought funding through the NDIS for an assistance dog in October 2017.

The agency that runs the National Disability Insurance Scheme has been directed to fund the training of an assistance dog for a 63-year-old cancer survivor living with a rare autoimmune disorder, three years after she initially applied for it.

Earlier this month, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal ruled the National Disability Insurance Agency should include the $34,000 cost associated with finding and training an assistance dog in the statement of supports of the woman’s NDIS plan.

The woman lives with Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome. She has also experienced various other health conditions including osteoporosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and thyroid cancer, which had been treated with chemotherapy.

She initially and unsuccessfully sought funding through the NDIS for an assistance dog in October 2017 after her previous dog died in 2015.

She made another request in November 2018. The NDIA approved supports worth $191,829.46, but funding for the training of an assistance dog was determined not to be a reasonable and necessary support under the NDIS Act, which led to the initiation of the AAT review in January 2019.

In her reasons for the ruling, the AAT’s Kate Buxton noted it appeared there were “no comparable supports which would achieve the same outcome for the applicant at a substantially lower cost” and a dog would produce “benefits that go directly to her independence and to her sense of self-worth”.

The woman said her previous assistance dog would perform various tasks for her such as taking off shoes, taking covers off the bed, and alerting others when she was having a medical episode.

She argued another dog would help with similar things, increase her independence and lessen the load on her carers. 

Various medical professionals provided reports to the AAT in support of her application, most of which agreed that a new assistance dog would greatly improve her life.

In her outline of closing submissions, the woman stated: “by denying my application for a replacement provider-trained assistance dog, the [NDIA] is stating that my safety, self-worth, independence and mental health status is not reasonable or necessary”.

  

Prior to the AAT hearing, Ms Buxton said the NDIA contended there had been no evidence a provider to give the dog training had been chosen, nor any evidence the dog would be temperament tested, healthy or vaccinated.

The agency was also skeptical of some of the tasks the applicant hoped it might be able to perform, including carrying items such as bags of shopping. 

But around three months before the AAT hearing, Ms Buxton said the focus of the NDIA’s argument then shifted from the woman's need for the dog to the mechanism for funding its training.

Lawyers argued an assistance dog could not be funded under the NDIS until after it was identified, trained and qualified via relevant accreditation, and assessed by the NDIA to be a reasonable and necessary support.

The NDIA contended, under its interpretation of the NDIS Act, funding could only be released for a support if it already exists, not one that may exist in the future. They also argued funding the training of the dog before it was accredited could lead to an expensive and “potentially unlimited” number of attempts to train others should it not become a registered assistance animal.

 

Ms Buxton said the AAT was not satisfied that the NDIS Act contained the limitations contended for by the NDIA.

She also said: “there is no evidence before the Tribunal as to how the identification, training and qualification of an assistance animal appropriate for the applicant’s needs can take place without approved funding in place.” 

In a statement, an NDIA spokesperson said the agency “had noted the AAT’s decision on this matter, and is considering its response”.

“The agency uses publicly-available, transparent, plain English Operational Guidelines when making decisions on what supports are ‘reasonable and necessary’ – including those relating to assistance animals,” they said.

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