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Cancer patient warned cash could be clawed back

May 04 2012

B.C.'s Social Development Ministry has warned an Esquimalt cancer victim that it could claw back some of the money donated to her by the community, if those donations are made in cash.

A ministry supervisor phoned Sharen Gammon and the Esquimalt Legion Thursday to say that her disability allowance could be reduced if the Legion gives her money to pay for nutritional supplements, because that cash would be considered income.

Gammon, 53, suffers from blood cancer and breast cancer, and is facing a double mastectomy. Her doctor had recommended nutritional supplements to build strength for the surgery, but the government refused to pay for them.

The Esquimalt Legion announced Wednesday it would cover the bill for Gammon, who says she can't afford the $245 a month cost because she is on provincial disability benefits.

Legion secretary manager Doug Grant said he got a call from a ministry supervisor on Thursday morning.

"She explained to me if we gave funding to this lady that they'd reduce her disability allowance," Grant said.

The Legion had always intended to buy the nutritional supplements directly, he said.

The government interference prompted howls of outrage at the legislature Thursday, where three NDP MLAs attacked Social Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux for the behaviour of her staff.

"If the government is not prepared to help her, can they just get out of the way and leave her alone so that the community can help her?" asked EsquimaltRoyal Roads MLA Maurine Karagianis.

Cadieux said privacy restrictions prevent her from talking about Gammon's case, but that her ministry does everything it can to help ensure clients' government benefits aren't negatively affected when they receive community help.

"We just want to make sure that the way in which individuals receive gifts or assistance is not in contradiction of the regulations," she said.

Cadieux said her ministry was looking into Gammon's case, but couldn't provide any detail.

Gammon said she had been told to fill out another application - her seventh - for supplements.

The former CFB Esquimalt employee broke into tears when she heard the Legion's offer. "It's very humbling," she said.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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