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January 18, 2007

Appeal vindicates injured worker

Kirsteen Verhey has won a four-year battle with the Workers’ Compensation Board on appeal.

By Darrell Bellaart
The News Bulletin

Jan 18 2007

Kirsteen Verhey has won a four-year battle with the Workers’ Compensation Board on appeal.

Worksafe B.C. – formerly the WCB – must reinstate Verhey’s full pension and repay some $45,000 taken from her since 2003.

Wrist pain ended Verhey’s 13-year bus driving career in 1998, at age 34. It was diagnosed as chronic regional pain syndrome, a rare, debilitating disease that has a limited affect on mobility but requires strong medication to treat.

When all avenues of vocational rehabilitation were exhausted, she went on a full disability pension. In 2003 WCB cut her pension in half. She took it to an appeal tribunal in 2004.

The tribunal said her pension couldn’t be cut without an employability assessment, so WCB hired two experts to assess her: Dr. Ron Penner, a psychologist, and Dr. Stu Gershman, who specializes in sports medicine.

Gershman said she is physically employable, but Penner identified cognitive problems too severe for her to work.

WCB sided with Gershman and decided she could become a bingo caller. Verhey’s husband Paul thought that sounded reasonable until he started looking into the job requirements.

“It’s a high-stress job, because you’re talking about people’s money,” he said.

“Medically, there’s no reason for her to go back to work. She’s not going to be further injured by using her arm, but she still has to deal with the issues of pain and the effects of the disease, which make her further unemployable. And that proved to be inconvenient for WCB, who didn’t want to pay a full pension.”

The Verheys kept up their fight, which got a boost when the News Bulletin published a story on their plight in 2005.

The new tribunal decision, released this month, is a vindication.

“I’m over the moon,” Kirsteen said. “If not for Paul, I would have given up. I never thought I would have won.”

Paul Verhey calls it a major victory on several levels.

“Obviously, David can beat Goliath, and hopefully that decision will inspire other people in the midst of a fight to keep it up,” he said.

“And it sends a clear message to the board that they can’t do things just because it’s convenient for them.”

Paul Verhey said the board should have backed off when Kirsteen was found to be psychologically unemployable.

But Pam Cohen, director of disability awards for Worksafe B.C., said this decision makes no difference in how the board would deal with future cases.

“Every case is taken on its own merits,” she said.

The province originally created the WCB to avoid lawsuits when workers are injured, but Paul Verhey said the system is too concerned about saving money, rather than treating workers fairly.

“I would like to see a greater amount of accountability with officers of the disability awards system,” he said.

“As a taxpayer, I expect the board to be vigilant, but I can’t tolerate them being vigilante.”

Nanaimo News Bulletin

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