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An 8-year battle with the WCB ends in suicide

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The following story is one that many seriously injured workers will relate to. For reasons I'll eventually explain, it had a profound affect on me.

 

 

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Eight-year battle with province ends in suicide

Family, lawyer says battle with WorkSafeBC left injured man despondent

Kim Bolan, Vancouver Sun

Published: Monday, February 13, 2006

 

Last Tuesday, injured trucker Bhupinder Singh Kang told a WorkSafeBC meeting that he spent his days dreaming he was in a big hall "watching the sunset, and waiting, waiting, waiting for death."

 

Hours later, he was found dead on the kitchen floor of his Abbotsford home, an apparent suicide.

 

His family and lawyer Craig Paterson believe the distraught 39-year-old took his own life because of his desperation over an eight-year battle with WorkSafeBC -- formerly the Workers' Compensation Board -- that left him depressed and despondent.

 

And Paterson said a series of letters Kang received from different board officials within two weeks of his death gave the Indian immigrant convoluted and conflicting information about his case, which worsened his mental state.

 

"The correspondence confused him and devastated him," Paterson said. "Two of the three letters were not even copied to me."

 

And he said the Feb. 7 meeting, which was to conduct a vocational assessment of Kang, had the disabled worker so stressed that he urinated in his pants on the drive there.

 

Paterson wants a coroner's inquest to look at how WorkSafe B.C. deals with clients like his who are severely depressed over their plight. He has contacted chief coroner Terry Smith about Kang's case.

 

The Vancouver lawyer said he has had four similar cases over the years in which a client has committed suicide out of desperation.

 

"They are twisting people into pretzels," he said. "A coroners' inquiry should look at what could be done differently in these situations."

 

According to WorkSafe, 18 claims have been paid for suicides from 1996 through 2005, including three last year and five in 2001.

 

"These are claims accepted where it has been determined that a worker took his or her own life due to pain or other complications arising from a previous work-related injury," said board media officer Donna Freeman.

 

Chris Hartmann, WorkSafe regional director for the Fraser region, looked at Kang's file Thursday after The Vancouver Sun requested an interview.

 

He said a review is underway to see if anything could have been done differently in handling Kang's case.

 

"There is never something like this that happens where we don't sit back after the fact and say: `Is there something else we could have done to prevent this kind of event from happening?'" Hartmann said.

 

Kang's ordeal began in 1998 when he was a co-driver of a commercial truck travelling through Arizona. He was asleep in the rig when the other driver went off the road.

 

Kang, then a 32-year-old refugee who had been in Canada just four years, ended up with multiple fractures of his C-1 vertebrae and an injured right shoulder.

 

He got workers' compensation until August 2000, when he was cut off benefits completely.

 

Paterson said Kang, who was unmarried, was dependent on the rest of his family for support afterwards. He shared a house with his younger brother Jaspal, sister-in-law Simerjit, their two children and his mother Mohinder Kaur.

 

"He went into a total depression," Paterson said. "He attempted suicide three times."

 

Paterson began advocating on behalf of Kang in 2003. The board eventually accepted Kang's claim, agreeing he suffered from post-concussion syndrome, major depressive disorder and chronic pain disorder. However, benefits did not resume.

 

There was a dispute over whether Kang was willing to participate fully in the programs prescribed by board specialists.

 

Hartmann said that last August, Paterson indicated "the worker would like to receive some support and some treatment so psychological assessment was then set up in the fall of 2005."

 

That assessment confirmed that Kang would likely not improve with treatment, but needed ongoing medical support to be stable.

 

"In November and December there was a brief period of surveillance that was undertaken by the board of Mr. Kang," he said. "The surveillance evidence didn't show that he was able to do anything more than what was being stated already."

 

In other words, Kang had told the board the truth about his capabilities, Hartmann agreed.

 

Paterson said Friday that Kang had believed he was being spied on and others thought he was becoming paranoid because of his increasingly fragile mental state.

 

"So he was right," Paterson said when told the board confirmed it had been watching Kang.

 

The surveillance was followed by the three letters in January, each outlining a different process underway.

 

The lawyer wrote to the board on Feb. 2 -- five days before Kang's death -- and called the situation "Kafkaesque."

 

"Three WCB employees contact him, all at once; one tells him his benefits have ended, another one [who never met him and does not ask to meet him] tells him he might get a pension at a vague time in the future and a third one wants to do a "vocational assessment" almost eight years after his injury!" Paterson wrote.

 

Hartmann said the letters should have all gone to Paterson and not directly to Kang under the circumstances.

 

"I think the right thing to do would have been to contact the worker through his representative," Hartmann said. "I think it was just an oversight on behalf of one or two of the officers."

 

He said while everyone who attended Tuesday's meeting recognized Kang's fragile state, no one imagined he was in such dire straits.

 

"It is not unusual for people to be anxious sometimes, to be in those meetings. I don't think anyone in that meeting felt that it got to the point where we needed to end the interview or take him to the hospital," Hartmann said. "Certainly we will be looking at - were there other things, was there anything that we could have picked up on in that meeting."

 

Paterson was so alarmed at Kang's demeanour in the room that he summarized his concerns in a letter to the board that he sent off that same afternoon, before he knew Kang was dead.

 

"This man is totally unemployable in even the most sedentary occupation, sadly, and the sooner the WCB realizes it and provides a 100 per cent...pension, the better," Paterson wrote.

 

Hartmann said the board worker who was in the meeting was devastated when she learned of Kang's death.

 

"She was in tears the rest of the day. She went home early and didn't come to work the next day," he said.

 

Kang's brother Jaspal, who is also a trucker, wants answers for his family.

 

"There should be some investigation into how he was treated," he said, starting to cry. "We don't want this to happen to anyone else."

 

Paterson is now asking for back benefits to be paid to Kang's family, funeral expenses, legal fees and "a full, sincere and frank apology."

 

"They treated this guy like a cheat and a liar for the whole eight years," Paterson said.

 

Hartmann said the requests are being considered.

 

"We'll take a look at everything Craig has asked for and we will make a decision on how to respond," he said.

 

Asked if he thought the board's procedures could have made Kang's emotional state worse, Hartmann said: "I guess that is an opinion. I don't know how to respond to that."

 

kbolan@png.canwest.com

 

 

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Posted: April 5, 2006

 

The one aspect of my situation I rarely reflect on, much less admit to, is my own attempt at suicide. Prior to reading the above story I had always considered this a private matter, and one I was not particularily proud of.

 

Not unlike this gentleman I was 39 when I attempted suicide. One twist in our circumstances is that Mr. Kang ended his life after an 8-year battle with WCB, while I attempted this at the onset of my battle, 8 years ago. While our situations differ in many respects, the root cause of our problems is precisely the same; the corrupt bureaucracy responsible for assisting injured workers has miserably let us down.

 

I won't go into the details of my suicide attempt other than to say that severe chronic pain, denial of work injury benefits, and my subsequent separation from my wife and child, were all key factors in this. While I do not consider the treatment I received from WCB to be as horrific as that endured by Mr. Kang, everyone has a breaking point, and clearly I had reached mine.

 

Suffice it to say that when I survived this ordeal, the guilt and shame of having let my family down was overwhelming. At that point I concluded I would never again allow such circumstance to get the better of me. At the same time I vowed I would never stop fighting for benefits I'm entitled to, and this website is a testament to that promise. This in fact is the message I’m attempting to send, and I hope it inspires others in this situation.

 

When you factor in family members, the number of lives affected by WCB corruption is impossible to determine. What is certain however is that until provincial governments hold WCB accountable for their actions, tragedies such as Mr. Kang’s will continue. The sad truth is that people tend to forget stories like his over time. Posting his story here is my attempt at keeping it alive.
 
 

All My Websites:

 

“WCB: Your Right To Sue” – Click here

 

Saskatchewan WCB Breach Of Privacy” – Click here 

 

“The Saskatchewan Party: Broken Promises & Cover-ups” – Click here 

 

"Appealing the Saskatchewan Workers Compensation Board" – Click here  

 

My "YouTube" video

 

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