Monday, October 29, 2007

Bill to Combat Elder Abuse Gathers Dust on Capitol Hill

By William Neikirk Tribune senior correspondent
8:42 AM CDT, October 27, 2007

WASHINGTON -USA Jennifer Coldren of Rome, N.Y., summoned her courage and traveled to the nation's capital in July to tell Congress about the rape of her now 91-year-old grandmother in a nursing home a year ago.

Coldren had a reason: She thought the story would help press Congress to pass legislation designed to protect elderly people from such abuse. "It was the most horrible thing in the world. A nightmare," she said.

But Coldren would go away feeling somewhat disappointed. She found Congress obsessed with Iraq. Her testimony before the Senate Special Committee on Aging did not receive wide media coverage. Despite her efforts, the Elder Justice Act, designed to combat abuse, neglect and exploitation of older Americans, still gathers dust in Congress. It has been doing that for five years, odd for a bill with few visible opponents.

"Every time I pick up the paper, it seems you hear more and more of [abuse] going on," Coldren said. "I had never really noticed it before this happened."

"It's an absolute disgrace," he said. "If this bill doesn't get passed this year, I think the elders of our country need to start getting a little more vocal and telling legislators what they think of them."

"It is not a glamorous issue," said Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), the chief Senate sponsor. "It's kind of inexcusable."

In the House, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), the main sponsor, said everyone seems to be for the bill and he hoped to get pieces of it included in other legislation.

The lack of success is something of a mystery. The elderly -- defined in the bill as those 60 or older -- are one of the nation's most powerful voting blocs. Abuse, neglect and exploitation of older people are on the rise and by some estimates could affect 5 million people, though no one has a precise number.

But a dirty little secret, and perhaps one reason the legislation is not moving faster, is that many seniors are abused at home by family members.

The Elder Justice Act would set up separate elderly justice offices in the U.S. Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, pump $400 million into state adult protective services over four years and create a federal coordinating committee among agencies to monitor and direct the government's efforts.

Abridged for E.A. read all here =>>

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