Judges Under Fire in Social Security Disability Hearings

A Social Security disability claimant that is represented by an attorney will know what to expect at a disability hearing. In these hearings, judges must sit face to face with the claimant and decide whether or not to award benefits. For a claimant who is disabled and cannot work, a successful hearing is extremely important.

In a story reported by National Public Radio, denials of benefits are leading to threats of violence. And sometimes these threats escalate to physical harm or worse.

In the case of Social Security disability hearings, Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) face these troubled claimants in the midst of a troubled economy.

Judge Dana Leigh Marks states: "We render decisions at the end of a hearing, right there, in real time, looking eye to eye with the person who is claiming relief. So if we have to deny their case, they are right there, experiencing all that emotion. And all that potential anger if a case doesn't go their way."

Because hearings are typically held in office settings rather than inside standard courtrooms, the physical placement of judges in relation to claimants is more close and informal. Moreover, current policy prohibits security guards from going inside the hearing.

In one case, a judge was assaulted in the hallway. In another, the brake lines to a judge's car were cut. In a severe case, a claimant that had apparently been rejected brought a gun and killed a guard before being killed himself.

It's a time when judges and claimants alike must bear the weight of a burdened system during a recession. Judges have more decisions to make and claimants have longer wait times. When people struggle to make ends meet, threats of violence will inevitably make their way to those who must decide who gets benefits, and who does not.

Resource: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129535016

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