Violence Against Social Security Judges Increasing.

       The PowerPoint released by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (“The Deficit Commission”), said we should “Reform Social Security for its own sake, not for deficit reduction.”
Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit. Not now, not ever. However it has everything to do with political theater and public disinformation.
SocialSecurity is a political football, and now we are beginning the political Super Bowl Season.
Critics of Social Security have frequently made alarming claims about the future of the system to support calls for “reform”. Opportunists are posturing and trying to humanize the Social Security Administration (SSA). In order to do that the first group they sieze upon to spot light are the Administrative Law Judges(ALJ) at SSA, the 1300-1400 judges who decide disability cases.So now the SSA and its programs are at center stage of the public political debate. An avalanche of news articles have been triggered. One Associated Pressarticle about violence against SSA ALJs became the most frequently Email-ed article on Yahoo within 48 hours of publication two days ago. However, the article can be very misleading without some insider background information.The public is being manipulated with these articles. These articles are a diversion. They seek to make the judges appear as victims, while it is the American public who are being victimized. The judges are gatekeepers for the Social Security Trust Fund. To understand how and why read “socialNsecurity, Confessions of a Social Security Judge” at ABA Journal article date May 18, 2012  found at told of a chilling incident in Tennessee. (I attended a Robert Crossley Bar Review Course in Knoxville, TN in 1977.)

A Tennessee man armed with a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol waited outside the offices of an administrative Law Judge (ALJ) last February, but the judge never emerged, according to a federal document supporting a plea in the case.

The man Roy Kenneth Wade Jr., was angry because the judge, K. Dickson Grissom, had denied Wade’s application for Social Security benefits, the Knoxville News reports. Wade was hospitalized after telling mental health professionals about the incident, as well as his continued desire to kill the judge, according to the document filed in Knoxville federal court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Kirby.

After his release from the hospital, Wade told federal agents he didn’t know whether he will kill Grissom, but if he did, he would save a round to shoot himself.

Wade confessed this week to a charge of threatening to murder a federal judge and will be sentenced later this year, the story says.

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.

An AP article “Violence Against Social Security Judges” could have been written 10 or even 20 years ago. Why now? The incidents cited are over 10 years old. The incidents of violence have not increased, only the threats. The threats are commonplace and go with the job.

The number one complain in disability cases in back pain. The second most common complain is a mental inpairment. Many of these claimants are seriously mentally impaired; some are certifiably insane. They talk out of their heads; and , they make threats. The ALJ is the first and sometimes only embodiment of the SSA and the Federal Governmant, so they make threats against them. But they have no means or opportunity to carry out the threats. So, by and large the threats are harmless.

Some judges will not hold a hearing without an armed Federal Protective Service officer in the hearing room. Not me. I would postpone the hearing first. I only had to do that once in my entire career as an ALJ.

Judges in Illinois were carrying guns to work in their brief cases 15 and 20 years ago. They probably still are today. The ones that I knew about, had permits to carry a fire arm. The state and the city fire arm licensing authorities must have been satisfied that there is and was a valid threat to their safety.

I have been threated. Attorneys representing claimants have been threated in my courtroom. I have heard things like “if I loose my benefits, I will kill you”. That was said by a Mexican gang member with tear drops tatoos on his face and neck to an attorney in my court room.

I never let them know where I lived. I did not give out my home address. After work, I was always cautious and vigilant in the parking lot. We had to park in the same lot as the claimants. They knew our cars.

I never went straight home after work. I drove around and made sure no one was following me.

I lived less than one mile from the Downey Hearing Office. I was prepared to meet violence at the office but not at home. I was a military veteran, so danger and threats went with the job. However, my family was not to be put at risk. If I was going to be shot, it would be at the office, not at home. If a vengeful claimant was going to blow up something it was going to be the office, not my home. An Oklahoma City type of attack was acceptable, but not violence at my private residence where my wife and 3 little children lived.

The AP reporter acknowledged that while no judges were harmed this year, there have been past incidents. The first example cited was that of a female judge in the Los Angeles Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). She was hit over the head with a chair during a hearing. That is not exactly accurate, but I am familiar with the incident. The ALJ made some fundamental mistakes. The incident was avoidable. The judge deviated too far from standard procedure.

The ALJ in question had been transferred from the Long Beach Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) to the Downtown Los Angeles ODAR. She conducted the hearing in a formal manner. She wore a black robe; she sat at the judge’s bench; she remained distant and removed from the claimant who was seated at the claimant’s table which was below and separated from the judge’s bench. Aside from the judge and the court reporter there were only two other people in the hearing room. Those were the claimant and her adult daughter. the claimant was not represented by an attorney and no attorney was present.

The claimant was alleging a mental impairment. She claimed that she could not engage in work on a consistent basis because her mental impairment prevented her from maintaining persistence, concentration, and pace. The ALJ was not convinced and something about her questions and her demeanor must have relayed that message to the claimant and her daughter. The judge was going to deny her claim. The conversational exchanges became heated. So, the ALJ closed the hearing and left the hearing room. Then she made a fundamental error.

The judge left the room, removed her robe, came back to the hearing room, and sat down at the table with the claimant and her daughter. It is not clear why she felt this little friendly chat was necessary. She had already as much as told the claimant that she was not going to win her case. She was not going to receive disability benefits. The conversation became heated. The claimant’s daughter became excited and irate. The judge jumped up and tried to leave the hearing room and the daughter picked up a chair and threw it at the judge. This was predictable. The judge lowered the barrier and put herself on the same level with the claimant.

This is not the kind of violence that most judges are afraid of. Most judges would not have put themselves in this kind of a risky situation. This was practically an invitation to precipitate an incident. Moreover, usually the cases are so tightly scheduled, one after another, that most judges would not have had time to have a nice little touchie-feelie chat with a mentally deranged claimant who did not have a lawyer present to represent her.

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.

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 agency.

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.

Categories: Social Security Judges | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “Violence Against Social Security Judges Increasing.

  1. Mike said: “The real issue is how you define somebody’s ability to work. I have a legal practice in which I have to deal with social security on a regular basis. In my experience, there are many people whose ability to earn an income is restricted in some way but not entirely eliminated. Most of these people will apply for, and more often than not receive, social security disability benefits. While Fernando’s story is compelling, most cases are not so clear cut. I do think the system is over extended and should not be the automatic fall back position for people who find themselves without an income. Admittedly, it is a complicated issue but there has to be some incentive for all of us to continue to contribute to this society.”

  2. Fernando said: “A stroke in 2001, 2 brain anuerysms, I went back to work 3 times, each ending in another stroke. In 2005 I filed for disabillty and waited 4 years before the judge found fully in my favor.
    During that time I lived without electricity at times. A fireplace, candles and books, baloney, beans and rice for four years.

    you people that complain about social security and disability do not have a clue, you look to blame, and in that would penalize innocent people, and for that you are made of the same worthless scum that the Madoffs of this world are.

    And what this country was founded on ? It was not founded on the plantation model that led to the Gilded age preceding the New Deal, nor the near repeat of that age that we have had over the last 30 years.”

  3. Tom said; “The judges are Unionized??? Uh Oh.”

  4. Eva Mayers Husband said: “This is a true story of what even angers judges. I had a friend that was in a car wreck during the Vietnam era. He was in a coma for years. He received last rites 6 or 7 times. Somehow he came out of that coma. It had taken them hours to cut him out of the wreck. He lost an eye… suffered brain damage. He lost much of his balance during the years of coma. Social Security told him in court that he could have worked. The judge was so upset that he threatened to throw the Social Security rep in jail. The man finally got his SSI started… How much abuse that is piled on the judges by Social Security is the public aware of? How much of stuff like this could you handle?… {with 2 million cases backlogged… no pressure, right?] Don’t blame the judges entirely.”

  5. Rhonda B. said: “My husband is on SSI but it took 5 years to get it! My youngest son was on SSI because he is autistic, unable to speak and function for himself. Because I work and my husband gets SSI, we made too much for my son and they cut him off. Also, the social security office had a different county go through his medi-cal and decided to cut him off of medi-cal. My son is on 5 kinds of medication, so now we have to pay for it all. We paid 556.00 this past week for 2 of his meds, and yes, I know people that are on SSI because they are alchoholics. This is completely unfair to people who really need it. What they need to do is revamp it and go through records every 5 years.”

  6. Rod Borgia said: “Let’s see
    (1) the Administrative Law Judges (ALJ)s are government employees.
    (2) the ALJs are members of a union
    (3) the ALJs are lawyers.
    Given these facts:
    give a thumbs UP if you think they are mostly Democrats
    give a thumbs DOWN if you think they are mostly Republicans
    If you fail this test you will never see an RSDI benefit in your lifetime. Your survivors will, however, receive an RSDI death benefit that covers the cost of a high class gunny sack to dispose of your remains.”

  7. Perry E said: “my friend had numerous surgery on his back unable to left and sit at work. and have all the paper work from his doctor sayin he can’t work and he still fighting social security office. i know why there is so much violent toward them good luck next i believe those threat will be act out.”

  8. Big T said: “Open threats are harmless. It’s the individuals that DO NOT make threats that you have to worry about!!”

  9. OTTO said: “Michael Astrue was hired by George W Bush to implement disability industry “standards” into Social Security Disability.

    In other words get rid of SSDI. They called it the “Social Security disability cliff.” The funny thing is that if that happens, there will be no coverage of any kind for Americans since private disability insurers have no intention of a full payout for lifetime disability. They regularly terminate benefits and wait for patients to get Social Security……………….or die.

    A good cautionary tale about private insurance was the “Vulture Club” formed by the last CEO of UnumProvident, then the largest private disability insurer in the US. It was a bonus plan to compensate case managers who terminated longterm benefits. The details are easily found on the Internet. Read it and weep.

    Astrue has a six year appointment so there’s nothing the current administration can do about it.”

  10. Pingback: Knoxville Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) to Move | Knoxville Injury Blog

  11. A. Veteran

    After an extreemly unpleasant and uncalled for display of unprofessionalism from a guard at the Cutler office in Albuquerque? My reccomendation as a former security professional ,(U.S. Army Ret.) would be that a guard not mock the voice of a man , or a woman for that matter who has served in battle on three continents. This was in initial reply to my greeting of “good afternoon gentlemen”. Dont know where you find them, but suspect that the one I dealt with came from bouncing at a skid row bar by his attitude , (one that I gave no cause for) When dealing with a member of the public it would be prudent to not begin security interviews in such a manner! It is my sincierest wish for this matter to be investigated and in a sense of duty thats why Im here , in that ” after action review ” is critical in preventing reoccurance of such . I would strongly encourage the security supervisor @ the Cutler office be notified of my posting and would hope in empathy of the severity of the serious potential implications that he would in fact take my suggestion and report of unprofessional conduct seriously. To do otherwise is just plain foolish. I will further state that I was niether mocked nor disrespected by the latino officer on scene, but trying to intimidate my 5 foot tall wife with a crushed ankle was less than acceptable OR professional for that matter. I would further be willing to sign a sworn statement to such effect and further in fact intend to. Also as to the ‘policy’ of confiscation of my Leatherman tool after I attempted to difuse a hostile guard by saying that I didnt even have personal business and was only accompanying my wife ,so I wouldnt enter and would just wait? Thats the point where I had had enough and let my temper get the best of me.. No apologies on my part for that, just regret. I dont disrespect people casually especially guys of that size. However I will not be a putz either. No Im far from a threat and polite to all,( in my county to do any less would be dangerous) I however am concerned that some of less than my mental faculties might not make the initial attempts of conflict resolution in such a hostile enviorment and the situation will further escalate. Lets try to prevent this in an effort to better secure your facillity . PS , i dont know , nor do I care what became of my $85 Leatherman , ( I do plan to recover via legal action) and that I didnt remember was in a utillity pocket. But if this “theft racket” is not addressed I guarantee the possibility of conflict will continue. And in closing Id add that I havent survived nor been promoted to higher ranks by walking into rooms with three large armed men ,( unarmed myself ) and then provoking trouble. No quite the opposite in fact, but when as a honorably discharged or disabled vet in a US Government building an $ 85 dollar tool is stolen from me and I am disrespected the moment I walk in? My reply and response is and will continue to be loud and clear! And I further assure you quite obscene. And deservedly so. What angers me most is that if a real threat had been present I would have immediatly rendered aid in whatever way I could have within reason. Myself and members of the public are not the enemy unless you by such actions make us so. PLEASE take this advice to heart and give it the full merits you see fit. True class would be dialog in an effort to resolve this and utilize it as a training opportunity. If such is acceptable and my property is returned to me then no further, (legal-governmental) actions on my part will be required . Thank you and please do reply here if you wish to resolve this issue in the honorable way described above. Contact data etc can then be furnished at that time. Yours in the US Constitution and Bill Of Rights, A . Veteran

  12. James

    I’d rather walk through a bad neighborhood than spend an hour in a SSD office, desperate people have weapons

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