Corruption and disrespect in the process of disability assessment in Armenia
Assessment of disability status
In the process of assessing disabilities, people in Armenia face many problems — from discrimination to outright corruption.
The NGO “Agenda for the Protection of the Rights of People with Disabilities” has been undertaking a comprehensive support program for five months, the main objective of which is to protect people’s rights during the entire disability assessment process.
Mushegh Hovsepyan, chairman of the NGO, believes that “[d]epriving people of their disability status, changing this decision by changing the assessment system, is simply fraud.”
Starting February 1, disability assessment in Armenia has been carried out according to a new system — according to an applicant’s fundamental capabilities.
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Mushegh Hovsepyan, “Agenda for the Protection of the Rights of People with Disabilities”
People need help
“Although our organization started operating not so long ago, it is already quite well known among people with disabilities. Most often, we are contacted on issues related to medical and social expertise.
We have undertaken a program to assist people with disabilities in the course of determining their condition in order to better coordinate this aspect of our activities. The program started in November last year, although before that we consulted everyone who contacted us.
However, to monitor the situation, to accompany people with disabilities with representatives of our organization during the assessment of their functional capabilities or the participation of a lawyer in legal proceedings in their cases, additional professional and financial resources were required. We received this opportunity as part of our new program.”
Legal advice and other services
“As part of the assistance program, we are creating a system of services that will support a person during the entire process of assessing their health status. Moreover, assistance begins even before the start of the assessment process itself and ends only after it is completed. We provide advice, legal aid, and professional medical assessment.
When a person is just about to submit their case for disability assessment and is not sure whether they should enter this process in their particular case, we provide advice to make this decision as well.
We also support people at subsequent stages, when, for example, they doubt whether the group of disability or the degree of functionality is correctly defined. At this stage, we also provide advice on a possible appeal against the decision of the evaluation committee.
In any case, even when our specialists do not consider the decision of the commission to be incorrect or biased, if a citizen intends to appeal it or go to court, we provide all the necessary services, since this is his right.
Our experts help to submit cases for reassessment, to provide justifications. They accompany the beneficiaries of the program in the appeal process itself, helping to clearly and objectively state their point of view and complaint. And in cases where a person decides to go to court, we provide the services of a lawyer.
Since the launch of the program, we have helped more than 150 citizens. There was a case when, after the presentation of the arguments of our experts about the violation of the rights of a citizen, they were restored at the pre-trial stage, the case did not reach the court.
I can say that with our participation, the likelihood that the evaluation commission will make a decision in favor of the citizen increases.”
“The process of medical and social examination and assessment of functionality contains risks, although it is carried out according to clearly defined criteria. For many of our beneficiaries, the restoration of violated rights becomes a difficult process, since they have no idea on the basis of which this or that decision is made regarding their lives.
Meanwhile, when there are experts next to a person, a structure that he can trust, he feels more confident, understands that his rights will be protected. This feeling of security is very important for a person. So even before the start of the evaluation process itself, we prepare those who contact us about how the process can proceed, what should be emphasized.
It turns out that they are to some extent ready to independently defend their interests. On the other hand, the relevant authorities know that the assistance service is operating, people can contact our experts and get reliable information.
Of course, this is also in the interests of state bodies. There have been cases where the commission made reasoned, justified decisions which, however, raised doubts among citizens. But after consulting our experts, having received the same answer from an impartial institution, people were convinced that their rights had not been violated by the state.
The most justified fear is of corruption
“The disability assessment process has been considered the most corrupt for many years. There were many stories in the media about this and criminal cases have been initiated.
I cannot say that this program will neutralize all corruption risks, because corruption is, in fact, an example of “mutually beneficial cooperation.”
In order to break this cycle, at least one of the parties must be convinced that it can advance its interests within the law.
For this reason we plan to launch another program in the near future, with the help of which we will try to deepen knowledge about corruption among persons with disabilities and their families, as well as among employees of the system.
I can say with confidence that people’s awareness of their rights influences their decision about possible involvement in corruption schemes.”
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New disability assessment system and “willful decisions”
“Among those who contact us, there are many who received disability status years ago, but today they are deprived of their status after a change in the procedure for assessing their condition. But changing the order or tools for evaluating functionality cannot become the basis for making deliberately unfair decisions.
At the moment we have several similar cases concerning, in particular, mental health. We are dealing with the case of a soldier who has post-traumatic stress disorder, visual hallucinations, severe pain due to a traumatic brain injury. Another citizen has a delusional disorder, which naturally affects his ability to work. And they are both being deprived of disability status.
Approximately the same picture emerges in the case of those who have the status of a “child with a disability” when they turn 18 and need to be re-examined. According to our assessment, in these cases many people are also unfairly deprived of disability groups on grounds that do not comply with the law.
In fact, depriving people of their disability status, justifying this decision by changing the system for assessing their condition, is fraud.
People often do not even realize what changes are being discussed or what grounds the government has provided for making such decisions.
Thus a negative attitude is formed towards the new disability assessment system based on functional capabilities, while in some cases it is simply about willful decisions.”
Disrespectful attitude from members of the commission
“We receive many complaints that the process of determining disability is accompanied by an inadequate attitude towards citizens undergoing examination by experts and members of the assessment commission.
One of the biggest problems people face when starting a disability determination process is disrespectful attitude, rude language, incomprehensible justifications for decisions, or refusal to comment or explain them in detail.
As part of this program, we plan to organize courses for specialists involved in the assessment of functionality. Their main goal will be to develop communication skills with people with disabilities. Most importantly, people with disabilities will help develop the communication skills of experts and civil servants. That is, they themselves will advise them on how best to contact.
Assessment of disability status