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, 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 tax protester did this year at the Internal Revenue Service building in Austin, Texas.
A Senate subcommittee is expected to hear testimony today 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.