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July 01, 2013

Groups develop vision for OAA legal assistance

The ABA expressed support in principle July 11 for “A Vision for Legal Assistance in Reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA),” which was developed over the past several months by a diverse group of legal and aging services organizations.

 “Legal assistance can be critical in helping older Americans attain or retain access to services and benefits that are essential to maintain dignity, comfort, security, and quality of life.” ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman wrote to Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging and has introduced S. 1028, OAA reauthorization legislation.

Susman said that the ABA views reauthorization of the act, which guides many programs and services such as legal assistance, as “an important opportunity for Congress to reaffirm and refine our country’s commitment to a safe, secure and dignified life for all older Americans.”

He explained that the ABA approved policy in 2010 supporting specific components of the Vision, including continuing the status of legal assistance as a priority service, encouraging the development of a coordinated delivery system, empowering legal assistance developers, continuing national support centers, and targeting services to seniors with the greatest economic and social needs.

The groups that developed the Vision include the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the National Association of Senior Legal Hotlines, the National Association of Legal Service Developers, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, and the Legal Aid Justice Center (Virginia).

Sanders’ bill includes provisions to promote federal, state and local efforts to protect the elderly from abuse, neglect and exploitation, and would establish an advisory committee to assess, coordinate and improve legal assistance activities. The bill also would update the definitions of greatest economic and social need and include additional categories of older adults, including veterans, Holocaust survivors, those with Alzheimer’s disease, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

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