(...but threats are rising more slowly than percentage increases in applicants.)
In an article released yesterday by Sam Hananel, it is reported that there has been an 18% increase in threats to harm or kill Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) or their staff over the past year. This is a disturbing trend, but not altogether surprising since many individuals view these benefits are their last and final hope of securing monthly help and health benefits. For those Claimants, this is the fight of their lives that sometimes results in a denial of benefits to which they may feel entitled.
Violence is never a solution and is despicable in any form. For those folks feeling that a hearing denial represents the door being slammed shut forever, it is important to recognize that these ALJ decisions are not the end of the line for a Claimant seeking benefits. There are additional steps beyond the hearing, whose purpose is to review decisions that have been issued.
The Appeals Council is the next level of review following the hearing, and it allows for an independent review of a judge's decision. The process occurs at an arms length, so writing an effective Appeals Council Brief is crucial to success at this level, and will be the topic of a future note at this blog. After the Appeals Council, Federal Court is the next step, and so begins the more traditional form of judiciary progress. Though each sequential step of the benefits seeking process represents new and probably unfamiliar territory for Claimants, it is important to note that there are advocates available who specialize in this type of work.
One final note regarding the increased number of threats to ALJs. Between 2008 and 2009, the number of Social Security Disability applicants rose by 21%. I do not yet know what the increase has been YTD 2010 when compared with 2009, but I have to imagine that the increase in applicants continues. Also, due to the length of time it takes to get a case to hearing, I imagine that the cases being heard are largely cases begun in 2009 during the 21% increase. One case of violence threatened or actually perpetrated is too much, but I think that it is important to note that incidents of violence have actually risen at a LOWER rate than applications themselves. As such, violence is increasing more slowly than growth, which is a better message than the article originally indicates, though certainly is no consolation to Judges, their staffs, and their families.
For question about your Georgia Social Security Disability case, contact Thomas O'Brien at Feiler & Associates.