The Associated Press has reported that the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs)who hear Social Security Disability cases are facing a growing number of violent threats from claimants angry over being denied benefits or frustrated at lengthy delays in processing claims.
While I have not heard of any incidents at the Washington DC Hearing office, where most of my client's Social Security Disability hearings are held, there were at least 80 threats to kill or harm ALJs or their staff over the past year - an 18 percent increase over the previous reporting period.
Fifty of the incidents occurred between March and August 2010. This includes a Pittsburgh claimant who threatened to kill herself outside a hearing office or fly a plane into the building like a disgruntled tax protester did earlier this year at the Internal Revenue Service building in Austin, Texas.
Nearly 2 million people, including all of my clients, are waiting to find out if they qualify for benefits, with many having to wait more than a year and a half to see their first payment.
While no ALJs were harmed this year, there have been past incidents: an ALJ in Los Angeles was hit over the head with a chair during a hearing and an ALJ in Newburgh, N.Y., was punched by a claimant.
There are about 1,400 ALJs who handle appeals of Social Security Disability claims at about 150 offices across the country, of which the Washington DC Hearing Office in NW DC is one. The DC Hearing office, like many around the country, are in leased office space rather than government buildings.
At the DC Hearing Office, as at all other hearing offices, a private security guard is assigned to each office.
Claimants and their belongings are screened by the guard
before entering hearings rooms, and the ALJs are equipped with duress alarms to notify the guard immediately of any problems.