10.21.09

Leahy, Kohl, Mikulski, Lemieux Introduce Bill To Improve Enforcement Of Elder Abuse Laws

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Chairwoman of the Senate HELP Subcommittee on Retirement and Aging, and Senator George LeMieux (R-FL) introduced the Elder Abuse Victims Act, a bill that would improve the law enforcement community’s ability to target and combat abuse and exploitation of senior citizens.  A companion to the Elder Abuse Victims Act (H.R. 448), introduced by Congressman Joe Sestak (D-PA), was passed earlier this year by a vote of 397 to 25 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“For years, Congress has failed to take concrete action to address the consequences of elder abuse, and that must change,” said Senator Kohl.  “With this bill, we hope to help local enforcement agencies and other advocates tackle the often-hidden scourge of elder abuse.”

“The elderly are often among the most vulnerable in our communities,” said Senator Leahy.  “We must do all we can to protect our seniors from abuse and exploitation.  The Elder Abuse Victims Act takes a positive step in that direction.”

“I believe ‘honor thy mother and father’ is not just a good commandment to live by, it is good public policy to govern by.  For too long, we’ve invested too little in training law enforcement how to respond to and prevent the abuse and exploitation of our seniors,” Senator Mikulski said.  “This bill gives law enforcement new tools to tackle elder abuse, in all the insidious forms it takes.”

“The growing number of older Americans demands we have enough programs and law enforcement services in place to protect our seniors,” said Senator LeMieux.  “This measure is aimed at preventing situations where abuse could occur, as well as giving our justice system the tools it needs to prosecute offenders who mistreat or try to defraud the elderly.”

Specifically, the Elder Abuse Victims Act would establish a robust portfolio of grant programs at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for courts and law enforcement officials in states and localities to establish specially designated elder justice positions or units, and to provide support for prosecutorial training on laws regarding abuse of the elderly.  The bill also provides funding for elder abuse victims advocacy groups.  Additionally, the measure requires DOJ to establish more uniform procedures to improve the identification and handling of elder justice matters, and to thoroughly study state and local practices of enforcement of elder abuse laws, including those on mandatory reporting and financial exploitation.

The legislation complements both the Elder Justice Act (S. 795) and the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act (S. 631), two other vital policies that address elder abuse.  The Elder Justice Act takes several important steps to help protect vulnerable elders by boosting funding for the long-term care ombudsman program, providing funds to focus on and develop the forensics of elder abuse, providing funds for adult protective services programs, improving training and working conditions for long-term care professionals, and creating a coordinating council of federal agencies to make policy recommendations and submit reports on elder abuse to Congress every two years.

The Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act would do much to prevent physical, emotional and financial abuse of older Americans by providing states with the resources they need to significantly improve background check screening processes for those who work with vulnerable populations, including frail elders and individuals with disabilities.  Provisions from S. 631 were recently added to the Senate Finance Committee’s health care reform bill by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

The Elder Abuse Victims Act has been endorsed by the non-partisan, 581-member Elder Justice Coalition.

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Among key provisions, the Elder Abuse Victims Act:

  • Stipulates that elder abuse includes mail, telemarketing, and Internet fraud aimed at elderly people;
  • Seeks to develop a common definition of elder abuse as knowing infliction of physical or psychological harm, or the knowing deprivation of goods or services that are necessary to meet essential needs or to avoid physical or psychological harm;
  • Seeks to develop a common definition of elder exploitation as fraudulent or otherwise illegal, unauthorized, or improper acts or processes of an individual, including a caregiver or fiduciary, that uses the resources of an elder for monetary or personal benefit, profit, or gain, or that results in depriving an elder of rightful access to, or use of, benefits, resources, belongings, or assets; and
  • Funds creation of positions within State courts, prosecutors’ offices or State Medicaid Fraud Control Units to coordinate elder justice-related cases, training, technical assistance, and policy development for State prosecutors and courts.

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