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Judicial review: SSD justices deemed unduly harsh

For those in dire need of income after a serious injury or disease has rendered them disabled and out of work, the outcome of a Social Security Disability application or appeal is of pivotal importance. Settled in a courtroom amidst attorneys and justices, the processes are based upon fundamental preconditions of fairness.

However, in some cases across the country, the judges presiding over Social Security disability hearings have been known to be unduly harsh. For any applicant, whether they live and work in a Missouri small town or a metropolis as large as New York City, being unjustly denied benefits can be a catastrophic event.

One Social Security Administration office in Queens, New York, was recently brought to a settlement following a class-action lawsuit that claimed its presiding judges had repeatedly denied claims for disability aid in a demeanor and at a rate that was especially biased and harsh. As a result of the settlement, thousands of once-denied claims are poised to be reconsidered.

Five judges working in the office were identified by the suit as being, in many cases, "intemperate, brusque, and unhelpful," employing "combative questioning, which hampered the truth seeking process." Turning away applicants (many of them immigrants), at a rate more than double that of the neighboring Brooklyn office, over half of all applicants were denied by those judges in charge.

Although the settlement did not require the administration to admit any wrongdoing, the suit mentioned claims hearings that repeatedly trivialized their mental and physical disabilities-sometimes to the point of tears. Those judges identified as especially harsh will be removed from the cases that are set to be reopened soon, giving applicants once denied help a second chance at a better life with benefits intact.

The Queens office example reaffirms the importance of strong advocacy and resilience throughout the entire disability application and possible appeal experience. Working with an attorney, the right information and testimony can be prepared, bettering the likelihood of a successful claim, even in the face of unduly harsh judges.

Source: New York Times, "Rejected Disability Claims in Queens May Be Reheard," Mosi Secret, Jan 11, 2013

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