Are Social Security Disability Judges Ogres?
Its always going to be the case that the Social Security Disability evaluation system is characterized as insensitive and unsympathetic, as well as incompetent, simply because...well, because it is.
And, correspondingly, it may always be the case that administrative law judges are characterized as ogres. Are they all ogres? Of course not. But enough of them are ogres that the label may suitably stick to the front of a ready-to-wear shirt, the back of which is emblazoned with oversized letters proclaiming the acronym, A L J.
Why am I writing this particular page? I read a letter that someone sent me. This was from a woman who, apparently, had gone to a hearing and had been given the opportunity to find representation (shouldn't have gone to a hearing without representation in the first place - bad move).
The problem is, as she puts it, she could not find a rep because everyone hated the judge. Hmmm. Could an ALJ be this bad? I don't see why not. I knew two very successful disability attorneys who avoided one particular hearing office (greensboro north carolina) as though it was infested with ebola, bird flu, and bubonic plague all rolled into one. The first attorney HATED going to that office because, as he put it, it has become permeated with "an adversarial funk". The second attorney simply WOULD NOT rep anyone who lived in an area serviced by that hearing office.
So, could an ALJ be that bad? I think the answer is yes. In fact, all you have to do is round up a thousand individuals who have been to ALJ hearings (assuming you could do this) and you'll get more than a few interesting stories of how rude and obnoxious a federal employee can truly be (make no mistake: administrative law judges are E-M-P-L-O-Y-E-E-S of the federal government just as claims reps at social security offices are). In fact, at this point, I wish I had cataloged some of the more derogatory comments that disability judges have casually tossed at claimants at hearings, because, as reported to me by claimants, some were pretty bad.
Why does this happen to be the case as often as it is? I've written about this a few times. Probably it has to do with this disappointing inherency of human nature: in positions of authority and import, you will invariably see abuses. In other words, its just human nature to have this tendency to be an a%#hole. Some of us, of course, control it better than others. And some of us don't,
Should an ALJ ever act like an jerk to a person who shows up at a disability hearing (who, these days has been waiting for a godawful number of months for a hearing and has suffered the kind of stress---due to lack of income, an inability to pay bills, hounding from creditors, and a lack of proper medical treatment and medications---that no one should have to bear)?
No. And there is no excuse for it. But it happens nonetheless. Where do you send a complaint if you've been treated badly by a disability judge? You can try mailing a letter here along with your name, address, phone number, social security number, the date and location of your disability hearing, and the name of the judge who heard your case:
The Chief Administrative Law Judge
Office of Hearings and Appeals
5107 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041-3255
However, it may be better to simply call your congressman and have one of their staffers make an inquiry. Disability Judges are employees, after all, and being rude to the disabled just doesn't make for good press.
Post Script: I should point out that the judge cited by the woman was nice enough to allow her the opportunity to seek representation.
About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.
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