Today, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) spoke at the inaugural meeting of the Elder Justice Coordinating Council, hosted by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder. The council was established by the Affordable Care Act and is charged with the creation of an "elder justice road map" for the nation, making recommendations to Congress and the White House for better coordination of activities relating to elder abuse, neglect and exploitation, and other crimes against elders across the federal government. Blumenthal was invited to speak at the meeting because of his leadership on these issues.
Blumenthal is a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. In that capacity, he chaired a U.S. Senate field hearing in Hartford, Conn. on the topic of elder abuse last summer. This year, Blumenthal introduced the Elder Protection and Abuse Prevention Act (S. 2077), which would implement a comprehensive network of elder abuse prevention and intervention measures. Last month, Blumenthal also introduced The Robert Matava Elder Exploitation Protection Act (S. 3598), legislation to improve the legal response to victims of elder abuse, named in honor of Mr. Robert Matava, a survivor of elder abuse that testified before Blumenthal's field hearing on the issue.
In June, Blumenthal introduced a bipartisan resolution (S.Res.492) with Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) that recognized June 15, 2012 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, called attention to the problem of elder abuse, and honored those who fight to bring justice to victims of elder abuse. The resolution passed the Senate by unanimous consent with the additional support of Senators Durbin (D-Ill.), Nelson (D-Fla.), Kohl (D-Wis.), Wyden (D-Ore.), and Rockefeller (D-W.V.).
In addition to the physical, psychological, and economic harm elder abuse inflicts on older adults, it imposes an economic burden on all Americans. Victims of elder abuse and neglect can incur higher health care expenses, further straining already overtaxed Medicare and Medicaid resources and increasing the demand for a range of supportive services, and older adults left without the means to live independently may have to rely on publicly supported long-term care placements.
A link to the Elder Protection and Abuse Prevention Act can be found here: http://blumenthal.senate.gov/download/?id=d4c4cfa3-6a1f-4d01-94bd-cc8a65a09b59
A link to The Robert Matava Elder Exploitation Protection Act can be found here: http://blumenthal.senate.gov/download/?id=d5ec3761-8cda-4703-98f9-1e2802221f83
A link to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Resolution can be found here: http://blumenthal.senate.gov/download/?id=43521a1c-9470-4f61-a544-a057637dca98
Below is a transcript of Senator Blumenthal's remarks:
I can't imagine where I would rather be. I'm really honored and excited to be here because I have really sought to focus on this issue as an area that maybe is overlooked or neglected by other Members of Congress. And there are champions in Congress, Senator Kohl being one of them, but I have been so privileged to be involved in this issue. The whole two hearings, field hearings on my own in Connecticut, and to introduce two pieces of legislation focusing on elder justice, both physical and financial as well as emotional. And as you well know, they are linked. They are intertwined. One leads to the other, they often veer together.
I think that today's council meeting is so important, because it begins to bring together not only the government folks who are sitting in front of you, but also yourselves as experts in this field, the people who contribute to better coordination and collaboration. Often the response has been disjointed; $12 million dollars spread over eight agencies on the federal level. My own perspective is based on those twenty years as attorney general, seeing the exploitation of individuals by people in positions of trust. It is heartbreaking, breathtaking, everything from taking clothes out of closets or food out of refrigerators, to millions of dollars out of bank accounts, fraudulent investment schemes, just all kinds of abuses of trust. And that's where the vision of Senator Humphrey was so important, that we owe people in those kinds of positions of trust and who are involved in trust relationships better than we had done before.
I want to make it real for you because these statistics often fail to convey what is so heartbreaking about some for these stories. At one of these field hearings we had a gentleman from Unionville, Connecticut, Robert Matatva, come to testify about his experience. I just want to read to you a part of what he said.
"I come to you to testify as a proud survivor. I survived World War II at the battle of Iwo Jima in the Pacific. I survived a gunshot wound, which left me 87 percent disabled and made me a Purple Heart vet. I survived the loss of my kid brother in that very battle. I survived losing the love of my life, my soul mate and wife to cancer at a young age. I survived being diagnosed with cancer myself on two separate occasions. I share this with you because I'm proud that I've always been a fighter. A survivor who can handle whatever situation may come my way no matter how big or troubling the problem may be, but today I join you to share my story as a survivor of elder abuse. This is a story that is much harder in so many ways for me to share with you because I was victimized at the hands of someone I love. I served my country with pride and with love; I tried to serve my family the same way. But in all my 90 years, I could have never prepared for the hardship I would be put through as a member of my family, a person I once trusted, loved and once called a son."
He went on to describe how his son had taken his house, which he had built with his own hands. A business which he started after coming back from war, an auto repair business and all of his savings and left him penniless at the hands of his own son. I evoked his testimony because I think that human element is what brings us here today. The question really for all of us is, "What would have helped Robert Matatva? What would have helped him?" Well, he could've used a lawyer, an advocate. Which too many of our seniors lack, they are at a critical point where they need an advocate, not just a lawyer to go to court, but an advocate to put them in touch with the Adult Protective Services. And they need a point of service, that missing link. In fact, the missing link initiative is one of the Department of Justice initiates in this area, thankfully. He certainly needed a champion in the system and I think Elder Justice really needs what the justice system so often fails to provide not only to our elders but often to our children and others in our society, which is advocate someone to champion their plight.
We have a lot of work to do. I thank you for inviting me to be a part of this very, very important meeting, a council that was the vision of one of my former colleagues, Senator John Breaux in 2001. It has been a long time coming but it will accomplish a tremendous amount I'm sure. And I hope we can begin by reauthorizing the Older Americans Act, which we desperately need to do and overcome a lot of the bipartisan divisions that unfortunately have created gridlock in the United States Congress on this issue. We have to come together in a very, very bipartisan way.