A Landmark Step Forward for America’s Seniors: The Elder Justice Act
Over the course of the last decade, the Elder Justice Coalition has been fighting to secure passage of the Elder Justice Act. To support the passage of this landmark legislation and empower Americans to speak up about the growing crisis of elder abuse, the National Council on Aging (NCOA), WITNESS and 17 elder rights advocates from across the nation went into the homes of courageous American seniors to document their poignant stories about abuse, neglect and exploitation. With the video footage we produced a short documentary, An Age for Justice: Confronting Elder Abuse in America and over 100 video testimonies. These films and short messages were then sent directly to Congress with a request to pass the Elder Justice Act (EJA). Our federal government responded on March 23 when this bill was signed into law as part of the comprehensive health reform legislation.
While health care reform captured the national headlines, the EJA unquestionably deserves our attention. When asked about provisions of health reform that received little fanfare, Health and Human Secretary Kathleen Sebelius pointed to the EJA — legislation that gives our nation a solid framework to protect seniors from being beaten, neglected and exploited. She stated, “[The Elder Justice Act] has been an issue talked about for a very long time . . . . It’s now the law of the land. It was part of the underlying Senate bill, and I don’t think many people have ever focused on the fact that this is an important step forward for seniors in America.”
The reason this is an important step forward is because the EJA is the most comprehensive federal legislation ever enacted to combat elder abuse. The EJA authorizes increased federal resources and leadership to support state and community efforts to prevent, detect, treat, understand, intervene in and, where appropriate, prosecute elder abuse. It also authorizes funding for broad-based education and awareness efforts.
While this is a critical victory for today’s seniors and each of the 76 million boomers that have a one in ten chance of facing elder abuse as our society grays, the work is not done. We now need Congress to fund and implement the EJA. This process now sits in the hands of the appropriations committees in the House and Senate.
For now, all of us at Elder Justice Now would like to thank each of you who spoke up by writing to your Congressional Representative. Your voice made a difference. And for those of you who shared your story, a very special thanks. We know the strength this took. As Pat Smith, one of the courageous seniors so succinctly states, “I don’t think this is an issue people like to think or talk about.” While true, we all must continue this conversation.
To be a part of the national effort to raise awareness of this growing crisis, we encourage everyone reading this along with elders, members of the Aging Services Network, grassroots groups, senior centers, retirement homes, congregations, law enforcement, health care providers, academics and any individual with grandparents across the country to Host-A-Screening of the short documentary film, An Age for Justice: Confronting Elder Abuse in America. By hosting a community screening of the film you will be protecting the dignity of today’s seniors and helping to ensure we can all live free from abuse tomorrow.