ACC benefit cut 'immoral'

By Imran Ali

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A Northland man has slammed the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) for suspending payments to him because of what he terms a "speculative" opinion from a psychiatrist.

Craig Barnett, of Dargaville, was told last month that his weekly payments for psychological symptoms would be frozen because his present mental condition was not caused by a personal injury sustained 13 years ago.

Mr Barnett was kicked by a horse in 1999 and his claim for a head injury was accepted by ACC, which provided him with a range of support, including weekly compensation, psychological help and vocational training.

Recently, he made a new claim for a mental injury resulting from the 1999 accident and was referred to Auckland psychiatrist Rudi Kritzinger for a assessment. In his report, Dr Kritzinger said he could not come to a definitive conclusion, but said his most benign interpretation would be that Mr Barnett's injury resulted in a post-concussive syndrome which was temporarily associated with significant life changes.

"Following his [Mr Barnett's] recovery, there has been a continued tendency to interpret all symptoms as injury-related and, by this time, he had become financially dependent on ACC which inadvertently reinforced reporting and attribution biases," the report said.

Mr Barnett said ACC's decision was "illegal and immoral" because Dr Kritzinger admitted being unable to form a definitive view, as had other medical professionals before him.

"One week they're talking about a rehabilitation programme and the next week they suddenly chop off my entitlement," he said.

In the past 13 years, he claimed ACC had not rehabilitated him into a job.

"I want a job; 13 years is a long time."

Two years after his injury, his marriage broke up, he lost his two lifestyle blocks, had only $6000 and lived in a car for a year.

He had later lived in Brisbane for two years, but had to return to New Zealand after ACC suspended his entitlement, Mr Barnett said.

His discharge diagnosis from Whangarei Hospital after been kicked by the horse was "minor head injury" and no neurological signs were detected.

Over the years, various medical professionals had struggled to get full information on the circumstances surrounding his injury or his personal details in order to ascertain a link between his state of mind and his injury in 1999.

His usual complaints were headaches, anxiety, depression and poor sleep.

ACC spokesman Glenn Donovan said apart from Dr Kritzinger's report, the state insurer considered other medical information before deciding to cancel his entitlement.

"As ACC can only cover injury-related needs, it was no longer appropriate to continue to provide assistance to Mr Barnett for his current psychological symptoms," he said.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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