I have written some about where I work before - a law firm that specializes in assisting people with Social Security disability claims. Our clients are not your typical folks filing frivolous lawsuits or engaging attorneys in high-dollar divorces. Most often, when someone secures our services to assist them with their claim, they have been disabled by illness or injury, and have been out of work for a period of months or even years. They have often tried to negotiate the Social Security Disability paper maze on their own, and have been unsuccessful. A high percentage of disability claims are initially rejected by the SSA.
We assist with initial filing (step 1), requesting reconsiderations (step 2) and hearings (step 3), and Appeals Council Reviews (step 4), and our firm is generally quite successful. However, our attorneys are not miracle workers or magicians, and they cannot pull a rabbit out of the hat. Contrary to popular belief, we have no way to move a claim faster thru the Social Security system, or to circumvent Social Security Regulations.
Our clients are often in extremely difficult situations both financially and emotionally. They come from all walks of life, but now find themselves with no source of income, dependent on family and/or the pitifully small amount of government assistance available. They are sick, and often getting sicker; some are terminally ill. They have injuries that are irreversible, or cannot be repaired without expensive surgeries that they have no means to pay for. They feel worthless because they can no longer work and provide for their families; they are losing or have lost their homes and their vehicles, and sometimes their spouses who can't cope with the long term problems they are facing.
Many of our clients suffer from various forms of mental illness, and/or are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Some have low-functioning IQ's, some have a been recently incarcerated. More than a few are homeless, in and out of local shelters, and living on the streets. Some feel so hopeless about their situation that they have attempted suicide, and a few have died waiting for their claims to be settled, which can easily take a year or longer. It is the nature of our business, and it's not pretty... it's tragic.
Generally, I love working with our clients, both on the phone and in person. I feel like I can make a difference in a small way in their lives by treating them with dignity and compassion. I am ever mindful that there but for the grace of God, go I. I am the friendly voice on the phone, or the smile behind the desk in the reception area, willing to take a few extra minutes to ask them how they are doing and show them someone cares enough to listen.
This can also be a brutally hard job, and it takes a toll on me. Day after day I receive calls from people who are at the end of their emotional ropes. They are in pain, they are out in the cold, they feel despair, and they have no one to focus that anger and frustration on other than their connection with the Social Security system... us. I explain as patiently and kindly as possible, that we are a law firm, that we are there to try to help them win their cases, but we are unable to help with food, housing, and medical needs. We refer them to what agencies our city has that might be able to help in some small way, but it's rarely enough to be of real assistance. To say they are desperate is an understatement. They don't know which way to turn, and we have few, if any answers. The Social Security Disability process is a waiting game. Waiting isn't easy when your survival is on the line.
Now let me tell you about our offices. We lease a suite of six offices on the ninth floor of the bank building downtown. Our offices occupy the West end of our floor. Due to the layout of our suite I cannot see anyone coming down the hall until they are just outside of our door. Along with the entrance to my reception area, there is only one other door, for exit purposes only, which is just on the other side of the reception area at the front end of the long row of offices. Our head attorney's office is across from mine. Once you head back down the hallway to the four remaining offices, it dead-ends. There is no emergency exit, nor is their a means of window exit... nine floors is a long way straight down.
The point of this post is to provide you with a background regarding an issue that has come to the forefront lately... our safety. While we have a security guard in the building for five of the nine hours it is open, he is not issued a gun! He carries a flashlight, pepper spray and handcuffs. Although semi-retired, he is certainly strong enough to subdue trouble makers, but... that would not be effective against someone with a handgun. Also, the time it would take for him to take the elevator to our floor would not make for instant intervention, should we be able to summon him.
We recently dealt with an upset employee that had been terminated, and we encounter agitated clients every day who feel that we have not done enough for them. I sit at the reception desk, I am first in the line of fire. I pride myself on being able to deal fairly well with most folks who are upset, and am generally able to calm them down to a more rational level of communication. But.... if someone was looking to make the news as a final statement of desperation and came down the hall with a handgun, I am a sitting duck, or more likely, a dead duck.
We've been talking about it at work lately. If the staff in the offices heard a commotion in the reception area they could call for help, but it would be highly unwise for them to come charging down the hall to assist me without some kind of weapon at their disposal. A can of pepper spray can't stand up to a gun-wielding crazy person! It would likely mean the loss of more life. So I have instructed them not to be valiant idiots, but rather to lock their doors, crawl under their desks, and summon help.
Yesterday we had a visitor to our office who was clearly there for purposes other than just to inquire about obtaining our services. When he entered downstairs, he asked the security guard where the restrooms were, and was directed to the 2nd floor. (Oddly enough, we have no public restrooms on the first floor.) The guard watched the hallway/elevator monitor cameras and noted that the man did not stop at the 2nd floor, but came to our floor instead. So the guard quickly came up and followed him down the hallway as he entered our office. The man sat in the chair in front of my desk as I responded to his questions and explained disability regulations and the process of filing claims. He said he was 62, and thus would automatically qualify for early retirement benefits.
Only myself and one other co-worker were present in the offices at the time, since it was shortly before lunch. I went over the facts and issues with him several times, and also discussed the worker's comp claim papers he had gotten from the state employment service. He was unhappy with his treatment there too, claiming no one would help him with the forms and that no one there spoke Spanish, which is highly unlikely due to the large Hispanic population here, and the volume of Spanish-speaking people government agencies deal with.
All the time I was talking with him, the security guard was standing just on the other side of the doorway listening. The visitor was nervous, eyes darting around, and asking more than once if someone was knocking at our other door. Finally he accepted that I was unable to assist him and as he got up to leave he asked where the restroom was. I directed him to the one next to the elevators on our floor. He left, but did not go to the restroom. The security guard watched him get back on the elevator, ostensibly to leave the building. A short while later security cameras filmed him exiting the elevator on the 11th floor, clearly roaming the building for some reason - possibly looking for a place to sleep, as we have indigents frequently trying to hide in the building overnight to keep warm. We have a couple unoccupied floors that make this possible, if one is very careful and clever. It has happened before.
Sooo... we had no further problems with this visitor and he didn't reappear, although we all were on alert. But once again the issue came up that if someone meant to cause harm, or was emotionally unstable, it could have quickly become a very bad situation.
Our senior attorney, in his mid-thirties, is talking about obtaining his concealed carry handgun permit, and for the first time, so am I. I have a handgun, an awesome Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm semi-automatic. I use it strictly for target practice, and for security at home. John has a concealed carry permit and his handgun is with him when he is away from home; he has encouraged me to do the same, but I have been resistant to the idea. I have never felt the need or desire to obtain a permit or to carry my gun. Old woman packing heat... it all seems kind of surreal. The whole idea really disturbs me, to think that we are now living in a world where folks need to walk around armed. And yet... given my work environment, maybe it's not so dumb after all.
Do I really want to just sit there unable to do anything realistic to defend myself and/or my co-workers should the need arise? I believe in the sanctity of life, and in co-existing peacefully in the world. I believe in using communication and all other means of diffusing a situation before resorting to violence. But if the situation demanded it, if my life was in jeopardy and there was clearly no other option... could I retrieve a handgun from the shelf under my desk and use it? Maybe. I'm still contemplating it. I'll get back to you on it once I decide.