EDD battle against disability fraud blocks pay for Bay Area dad with deadly cancer

ByMichael Finney and Renee Koury via KGO logo
Friday, September 2, 2022
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The EDD froze more than 345,000 disability claims in 2021 in its effort to stop fraud, but is still blocking funds for some who are truly disabled.

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (KGO) -- As 7 On Your Side had previously reported, the Employment Development Department (EDD) froze more than 345,000 disability claims last year in its effort to stop another massive fraud scheme. It's prevented thousands of payments to scammers, but it is still blocking funds for some who are truly sick and disabled.

Among them is a young dad in Walnut Creek who is struggling with a deadly illness.

The EDD says payments are flowing to most of those legitimate claims but not all. This viewer says he was shocked when he became sick -- on top of that, he faced a struggle with EDD.

"They looked at me like, 'You are wasting your time, buddy,'" said James Caswell. And time was the last thing Caswell had to waste.

"'There is nothing we can do to help you. Get in line,'" Caswell said he was told.

RELATED: EDD puts wrong name on Bay Area man's unemployment claim

Caswell needed help more than ever, and he wasn't finding it at the EDD.

"I felt hopeless. I felt like it was hopeless," Caswell said.

A young dad with a wife and two boys, Caswell suddenly became ill in January.

"The doctor's office calls me and says, 'I'm sorry we did the biopsy,'" Caswell said.

It was stomach cancer.

RELATED: EDD wrongly denies hundreds of thousands of CA unemployment claims every year, report shows

And the best he could hope for? Doctors would remove his stomach. He'd live the rest of his life without one.

The only alternative? Not living at all.

"My mind went to this weird, out of body -- I feel horrible, you know, because we've got these two little boys," Caswell said.

He took time off work, began chemo and applied for disability from the EDD.

"And then, silence. Can't get any update. Can't get hold of anybody," he said.

RELATED: Fraudsters steal $15,000 from Bay Area man's EDD card, Bank of America says 'no error occurred'

The EDD granted benefits but no money ever came. His savings dwindling, medical bills piling up and feeling sick, Caswell went to the EDD office in Concord.

He said it was surreal.

"It was insane. It was like insanity. I mean, it felt, like, hopeless," he said.

When he asked about his claim, a staffer sat him in a cubicle and began calling an EDD phone number.

"He dials this number. Between 15 and 20 times while I sit there: ring, ring, ring, ring. And then it goes to, 'We're busy right now. Call back later,'" Caswell said.

RELATED: California delayed unemployment benefits for about 6 million people during pandemic, report says

It was the same thing Caswell had tried dozens of times from home.

Caswell figured the man suspected him of fraud.

"I'm telling him, 'I was diagnosed with cancer in April,' He says, 'I don't care.' And I'm like, 'Huh. Well, I have a chemo port,' and he says, 'I don't care.' 'I have an EDD account.' Then he says, 'They don't care,'" Caswell said as he recounted.

The staffer kept calling the number. It kept hanging up.

Caswell decided to leave.

RELATED: Disabled Californians plead for EDD to unlock their benefits after 340,000 accounts frozen

"That's when he says, 'OK this is what's going to happen. I'm going to dial this number. They're not going to pick up, but I'm going to keep dialing this number and they're never going to pick up,'" he said.

"I was flabbergasted. I kept waiting for the camera crews to come out and be like, 'Ha ha, you're on Candid Camera.' But it was real," Caswell continued to say. "I thought, 'Why am I wasting my time?' Because who knows how long I'm gonna live? I need to go see my boys."

Caswell asked 7 On Your Side for help; we told the EDD about his case.

A spokesperson apologized for what happened at the disability office saying: "We thank you for calling this issue to our attention, because an experience like what you described is unacceptable."

The EDD said his claim was delayed while it verified his doctor's ID, after scammers stole thousands of medical credentials last fall.

And finally, Caswell received all of his payments: $15,000.

"That was a huge relief, basically. You guys at ABC News, absolutely amazing," he said.

We'd like to thank state assembly member Rebecca Bauer. Her staff was instrumental in helping to push his claim through the system. After the disaster of the pandemic, the EDD says it's using millions of dollars allocated in this year's budget to improve customer services. We'll see if that happens.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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