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, says an AP report.
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 AP.
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."
Fifty of the incidents came between March and August, the report says, 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, Tex.
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.
About 1,400 administrative law judges handle appeals of Social Security disability claims at about 150 offices across the country, says the report. 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.
Social Security Administration spokeswoman Trish Nicasio said the agency continually evaluates the level and effectiveness of office security and makes changes as needed.
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.