Social Security judges face threats to safety

Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael J. Astrue speaks at a news conference at the Treasury Department in Washington. Judges 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. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Judges 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.

There were at least 80 threats to kill or harm administrative law judges or staff over the past year — an 18 percent increase over the previous reporting period, according to data collected by the Social Security Administration.

The data was released to the Association of Administrative Law Judges and made available to The Associated Press.

One claimant in Albuquerque, N.M., called his congressman’s office to say he was going to “take his guns and shoot employees” in the Social Security hearing office. In Eugene, Ore., a man who was denied benefits said he is “ready to join the Taliban and hurt some people.” Another claimant denied benefits told a judge in Greenville, S.C., that he was a sniper in the military and “would go take care of the problem.”

“I’m not sure the number is as significant as the kind of threats being made,” said Randall Frye, a judge based in Charlotte, N.C., and the president of the judges’ union. “There seem to be more threats of serious bodily harm, not only to the judge but to the judge’s family.”

Fifty of the incidents came between March and August, including that of a Pittsburgh claimant who threatened to kill herself outside the 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.

A Senate subcommittee is expected to hear testimony on Monday at a field hearing in Akron, Ohio, about the rising number of threats, as well as the status of the massive backlog in applications for disability benefits, which are available to people who can’t work because of medical problems.

Nearly 2 million people are waiting to find out if they qualify for benefits, with many having to wait more than two years to see their first payment.

Judges say some claimants become desperate after years of fighting for money to help make ends meet.

“To many of them, we’re their last best hope for getting relief in the form of income and medical benefits,” said Judge Mark Brown, a vice president of the judge’s union and an administrative law judge hearing cases in St. Louis.

While no judges were harmed this year, there have been past incidents: A judge in Los Angeles was hit over the head with a chair during a hearing and a judge in Newburgh, N.Y., was punched by a claimant when he showed up for work.

In January, a gunman possibly upset about a reduction in his Social Security benefits killed a security guard during a furious gunbattle at a Nevada federal courthouse.

About 1,400 administrative law judges handle appeals of Social Security disability claims at about 150 offices across the country. Many are in leased office space rather than government buildings.

Brown said the agency provides a single private security guard for each office building that houses judges. Frye said he has sought more security and a review of the policy that keeps guards out of hearing rooms. He said Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue has promised to look into it.

Social Security Administration spokeswoman Trish Nicasio said the agency continually evaluates the level and effectiveness of office security and makes changes as needed.

“We are taking appropriate steps to protect our employees and visitors while still providing the level of face-to-face service the public expects and deserves,” Nicasio said.

Visitors and their belongings are screened before entering hearing offices and hearings room, she said, and reception desks are equipped with duress alarms to notify the guard immediately of any disturbance.

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Online:

Social Security disability program: http://tinyurl.com/23mb78r

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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10 Responses to "Social Security judges face threats to safety"

  1. Keith  November 15, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    We are in the throes of “pre revolution”. The sleeping giant stirs and is quite angry. I see a bloody future on the horizon and it’ll be ugly.

  2. Sharonsj  November 15, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    It is common knowledge that anyone who applies for disability will automatically be turned down. The gov’t makes the process lengthy and painful in the hopes you will go away or die before they are forced to pay you. It’s happened to friends of mine.

    Gee, threats to judges, hiring armed guards at the unemployment office, etc.–could it be that the population is finally waking up to the theft and corruption? I agree that we are getting closer to seeing violence in the streets. It can’t happen soon enough for me.

  3. Carl Nemo  November 15, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Social Security is a giant, governmently enfranchised “Ponzi Scheme” where the new ‘investors’ SS tax contributions are used to pay off earlier victims of the scam who are now being compensated in far larger sums than they contributed during their career/job lifetimes. With inflation and the destruction of our dollar by irresponsible Fed~Treasury policies the SS system will collapse far sooner than 2037 as projected.

    The fund was first pilfered by LBJ in order to fund the Nam debacle with the idea of pitching U.S. Treasury IOU’s into a so-called “locked box” for redemption in the future. Well the future is now, forcing the SS Administration, due to shortfall in contributions to ‘redeem’ 28 billion dollars of these hundreds of billions IOU’s, that have been pilfered over the years by our nefarious chief exectuves regardless of the justification. It’s also one of the worst times in our nation’s financial history to be doing so.

    All and I mean all of our monetary and societal problems can be linked back to our criminally disposed government gone wild. Our money is their money with minimal to no accounatability as to how they squander it.

    Folks, America is in harms way and people need to get highly motivated to get their seemingly ‘braindead’ elected ones on the bridge to turn this ship of state about. They are knowlingly steaming at flank speed into an iceberg field of unpayable debt, the end result being a “Nantucket sleigh ride” to the bottom. : |

    Carl Nemo **==

  4. Pondering It All  November 15, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    What over-excited critics call “IOUs” are actual physical US Treasury Bills, considered by most of the world to be the safest investment possible. If not in T-bills, then how shoud the reserve SS funds be invested? Penny stocks? Lottery tickets? How about the S&P500? We all know how stable that is!

    • Carl Nemo  November 15, 2010 at 9:29 pm

      Yo Pondering It All…

      With the ravages of inflation since the passing of the SS Trust Act in the 30′s to present and even more exponentially so since LBJ’s SS supported Nam debacle; I think gold bullion bars, in lieu of Treasury ‘junk’ would have been far better which would have appreciated 3800 % in value to date predicated on an initial valuation of $35 per ounce as pegged post FDR’s confiscation of the metal, up until Nixon unlinked the dollar from gold in 74; ie., something of value for that which is tendered simply on the ‘full faith and credit’ of the Federal Reserve which is not truly an agency of the U.S. Government. Rest assured ‘faith’ in quasi-agencies of our government itself doesn’t mean diddly squat in these challenging and possible end times for our Republic.

      Unfortunately our government opted to move us onto the “paper standard” in 1913 which eventually will only make marginally effective ‘buttwipe’, possibly better fire starter after the hyperinflative crash of the once almighty buck. It’s happened many times in history and we are not immune from such terminal debasement of our currency as now… / : |

      Carl Nemo **==

  5. Guardhouse Lawyer  November 16, 2010 at 6:42 am

    So it seems to be OK to threaten people for doing their jobs? Just because you do not like the employer? I did not see one ounce of concern for the well-being of those employees or their families in the comments above.

    There, in that attitude, is the embodiment of the sickness which pervades our society. If you don’t like the government just threaten the families of people who work for the government. Now THAT is just the sort of thing Hitler and Stalin would have loved. Control them by threatening those near and dear to them.

    • Sharonsj  November 16, 2010 at 12:47 pm

      Were you not paying attention to why people are angry? Here are the affected people I know personally:

      Two sisters, both with severe lupus (they are unable to go out in daylight)–it took two years before they were judged disabled.

      A 50-yr-old with heart trouble and no income–3 mo wait for food stamps, 6 mo wait for non-food money, no money for housing, two years to qualify for disability, upon which he dies.

      A man in his 40s with back injuries and mild cerebral palsy, turned down for disability.

      Another man in his 40s with narcolepsy, turned down. So he drives a car anyway in order to earn some money and hopes he doesn’t crash and dieand leave his kid an orphan.

      Myself, in my 60s, with a myriad of physical limitations and spinal problems–the doctors wouldn’t even let me apply on the grounds that the government does not recognize back problems. That meant a four-year wait to qualify for SS and Medicare, so I could get the operation I needed to walk without pain.

      No wonder desperate people are getting so pissed off.

      • Guardhouse Lawyer  November 16, 2010 at 12:58 pm

        So being angry gives a person some right to make physical threats against the people who are working their butts off to complete their case loads? I don’t care why they were angry, they have no right to threaten someone who is doing a job that is difficult, demanding, and thankless. If you are going to get righteously angry get angry at the politicians who did not provide the funds to hire people to do the jobs that needed doing.

  6. bogofree  November 16, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Seems like a small fraction who have gone postal. I’ve seen worse in traffic court. I don’t condone the behavior but I can understand it.

  7. T.W. Day  November 16, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Funny. People are pissed at the government for incompetence. So, their reaction is to re-elected the most incompetent crowd we’ve suffered as a nation. I think the real problem is that the American public is viciously uneducated and math-phobic. We want low taxes and high services, the world’s most expensive military, plenty of corporate welfare, and a social net that catches only ourselves and lets all of the “undeserving” fall through the screen. We have become a nation of idiots.

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