It’s been more than a year since Alabama passed its version of the Elder Abuse Prevention Act. Unfortunately, a similar bill has been floating around Congress for years – with nothing being done. What was Alabama able to pull off that seems to elude Congress?
Alabama’s Elder Abuse Act
In June, 2012, Republican Governor Robert Bentley signed into law a bill that is designed to both prevent elder abuse, but also to prosecute those who engage in it. It was a two-pronged approach written with those two factors in mind.
Senator Tammy Irons dedicated three years in an effort of putting the bill together and then pushing it through the state’s legislative process. At the time, she said, “I am grateful that Governor Bentley realized the importance of protecting our senior citizens and signed my bill into law this session. This is the first step in protecting our senior citizens from abuse in all of its disgusting forms–physical, emotional and financial.”
Estate planning and elder law attorneys around the nation applauded. We see firsthand the long term effects of elder abuse in any form. Reports vary, partly because of the number of cases that go unreported, but the National Incidence Study on Elder Abuse reports that nearly half a million elderly Americans are subject to abuse of some form, often more than one form.
Alabama’s law creates new governmental and non-governmental agencies that will work together to help prevent elder abuse from occurring in the first place and then working to punish those that engage in the practice.
Even if the numbers vary from agency to another, the core of this national problem is definitive: as elders become more physically frail, they’re less able to stand up to bullying and are less capable of fighting back if they are attacked. They may not see or hear as well or think as clearly as they used to, and that means they’re targets for people –and sometimes family members – to take advantage of them.
Elder abuse also is known to involve threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and certainly financial exploitation.
Alabama’s law is thorough, to the point and leaves no room for misinterpretation. The question now is, why can’t Congress pass its bill that’s been floating around for years?
The House, in late 2013, once again began circulating a bill that would amend the Older Americans Act of 1965. The title, Elder Protection and Abuse Prevention Act, would expand the current law. The justification for the changes were surmised in recent Congressional findings from the Department of Justice. Among its findings:
- The Department of Justice estimated that more than 14 percent of non-institutionalized elderly Americans experienced some form of elder abuse in 2009.
- Only 1 in 23 cases of elder abuse is ever reported.
- The annual financial loss to the elderly is a staggering $2.9 billion – and “steadily increasing”.
- The mortality rate of older Americans who are abused is three times higher than those who are not abused.
It sounds simple: change the laws so that we’re better able to protect the elderly. Alabama was able to get it done in the first year of Governor Bentley’s term. Worse, the prognosis of the federal bill going any further is at a mere 2 percent. The chances of it being enacted: 0 percent.
As elder law attorneys, we know first-hand the short term and long term affects abuse can have on older people. Whether it’s financial, emotional or physical abuse, the repercussions are both sad and permanent. They’re also a reminder of how important a strong elder law firm is for a family. Your attorney should be one who works to ensure there are no vulnerabilities in the collective elder plan and estate planning documents.
To learn more about our services and dedication of protecting the rights of you or your loved ones, we invite you to give us a call today.
To learn more about the current Congressional status of this bill, visit GovTrack.