February 01, 2015

First Hearing of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging

Lori Stiegel

(Note: The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 36, Issue 3.)

 

The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held its first hearing of the 114th Congress on February 4, 2015. Signifying the importance and timeliness of elder abuse, the Committee chose "Broken Trust: Combating Financial Exploitation of Vulnerable Seniors" as its topic.

The level of interest was very high, with a dozen senators in attendance. Members present included: Chairman Collins (R-ME), Ranking Member McCaskill (D-MO), Blumenthal (D-CT), Casey (D-PA), Donnelly (D-IN), Gillibrand (D-NY), Kaine (D-VA), Nelson (D-FL), Sasse (R-NE), Scott (R-SC), Tillis (R-NC), and Warren (D-MA).

Chairman Collins opened the hearing by announcing that the Committee's three areas of focus in 2015 would be financial schemes and scams, retirement security, and investments in biomedical research. She then highlighted the difficulties that victims of elder financial exploitation have in reporting their experiences and obtaining justice. Ranking Member McCaskill's opening statement continued that theme. Notably, she stated that civil action—in addition to prosecution—is necessary to recover victims' assets and fully hold exploiters accountable.

Lead witness Philip C. Marshall shared the story of his grandmother, New York City philanthropist Brooke Astor, who was financially exploited by her son Anthony Marshall while she was in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease. He recounted how guardianship was obtained to protect his grandmother, how criminal prosecution held his father accountable, and how the probate process benefited charities by unraveling actions his father took to benefit himself financially.

Judith M. Shaw, Maine Securities Administrator and co-chair of the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention, imparted her mother's story to illustrate the vital role of financial institutions in detecting, reporting, and stopping exploitation. She explained how Maine's Senior$afe public/private training initiative facilitates that role, focusing on its efforts to train banks and credit unions to report suspected exploitation of elders with capacity to Maine's Office of Securities and of dependent or incapacitated elders to Adult Protective Services.

Kathleen M. Quinn, Executive Director of the National Adult Protective Services Association, provided statistics on the extent, cost, and personal impact of financial exploitation. She spoke of the difficulties that Adult Protective Services investigators face in obtaining timely records from financial institutions. She then decried the lack of federal funding for "protective services, training, data systems, infrastructure, and research."

Page Ulrey, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney and elder abuse prosecutor for the King County Prosecutor's Office in Seattle, Washington, explained why elder financial exploitation cases are particularly difficult to investigate and prosecute. Among her reasons were complex subject matter, lack of training about pertinent legal concepts for criminal justice professionals, the challenges of assessing capacity to make financial decisions, lack of forensic financial expertise, and under-reporting.

During their testimony, in their written statements, and in response to questions from the senators, each of the witnesses offered suggestions about actions that the Committee, Congress, and the Federal government could take to support efforts to prevent, punish, and redress financial exploitation. Recurrent recommendations included funding for and development or enhancement of an array of services for victims, multidisciplinary response, data collection, research, training for professionals, and technical assistance. Other themes were the need for federal, state, and local infrastructure to support those things, and for new laws or clarifications of existing laws to facilitate reporting, prevention, and response to victims.

To view a recording of the hearing and to read member and witness statements, visit http://www.aging.senate.gov/hearings/broken-trust_combating-financial-exploitation-of-vulnerable-seniors. ■

Lori Stiegel

Lori Stiegel is a Senior Attorney at the ABA Commission on Law and Aging in Washington, DC.