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Veterans and Nursing Home Abuse

While nursing home abuse is a truly disturbing thought, the rampant abuse of our elderly veterans in homes and retirement living communities is even more heinous. To think that those who have risked their lives for the defense of this country during their younger days are forced to come face-to-face with humiliating abuse in their elder years is more than troubling.

wwii-veteransThe fact is, this happens every day in America’s nursing homes, and the problem is no less significant in the homes for elderly veterans run by Veteran’s Affairs or other state agencies which should otherwise be committed to the protection and welfare of those who have served the armed forces of the United States.

The name for Veterans Administration (VA) homes have been changed, but the mission remains the same. Once termed “VA Nursing Home Care Units”, the newly redubbed “VA Community Living Centers” seek to provide compassionate care to veterans who meet certain requirements. The Veteran’s Administration describes those who meet the criteria as veterans with chronic stable conditions such as dementia, those requiring rehabilitation or short term specialized services such as respite or intravenous therapy, or those who need comfort and care at the end of life.

The goal of the homes operated by the VA is to “restore to maximum function, prevent further decline, maximize independence, or provide comfort when dying.”

This means that veterans being served by the VA in homes operated by the Administration are particularly vulnerable to abuse. The residents of such communities have declined physically or mentally to such a degree that those who perpetrate acts of abuse generally do so without fear of retribution or of even being discovered. This places our veterans in a difficult and often defenseless position.

Add to this the fact that most veterans applying for residency in such a VA home are likely to not be financially well-off—and therefore unable to switch to a new home at will—and the magnitude and seriousness of the problem of elderly veteran abuse comes into sharper focus.

The types of abuse and nursing home neglect that elderly people may suffer are varied and they are not limited to elderly veterans or Veterans Administration facilities. These abuses may take the form of emotional, physical, sexual, or financial abuse, each taking a heavy toll on the elderly residents of nursing homes.

Straightforward physical abuse of elderly veterans is a significant problem in VA facilities, as it is throughout the United States. Physical abuse is defined as the non-accidental use of physical force against an elderly person. The intent of the force is to inflict pain or humiliation, and the result can be catastrophic. When considering the weakened state of many veterans who require a bed in a VA nursing home, the mildest physical abuse can result in death if the injuries are neglected.

Depending on the individual circumstances, an elder may suffer abuse in nursing homes through the inadvertent administration of inappropriate drugs or the use of physical restraints. Physical abuse is the most obvious form of nursing home abuse because the results of the abuse can be observed in the form of bruises, lacerations, or other injuries. But neglect can be just as damaging. For example, nursing home residents that are not properly cared for run the risk of developing bed sores which can become infected and can be potentially deadly.

Emotional abuse of elderly veterans is rampant in society and is a recurring issue with care providers in VA facilities. Any time an elderly veteran is left in a state of emotional pain or distress without access to a remedy such as drugs or counseling, it should be considered nursing home abuse. As veterans grow older, memories of their wartime experiences may result in a state of anxiety or fear. Without remedy of some kind, this too can be called nursing home abuse.

Employees of nursing homes and similar facilities can act as abusers if they speak to the elderly person in a way which can leave a lasting impact. Abuse through verbal language can include shouting or threatening language, ridicule and verbal humiliation, or consistent blaming of the elderly person for things which are not his or her fault. As they grow older, veterans who have experienced significant post-traumatic stress disorder because of wartime experiences are at particular risk.

Emotional abuse of either of these types can result in physical symptoms if the causes remain unchecked, and so it is of the utmost importance that any resident of a VA facility be regularly screened for the effects of such cruel treatment.

Financial fraud is another form of abuse which may have a devastating effect on veterans. While the financial welfare of an elderly person may be widely varied, veterans of the United States Armed Forces may well be the recipients of Veterans Administration benefits, and these benefits are often the target of fraud and financial exploitation.

Abusers who seek to take advantage of elderly veterans in this way may engage in fraud which ranges from the simple theft of cash in the nursing home facility to elaborate schemes to defraud elderly veterans of monthly checks or other VA benefits which amount to the theft of a person’s sole means of financial independence.

One possibility for fraud when it comes to veterans is the increased likelihood of identity theft. It is not particularly unusual for a caregiver to have access to sensitive personal information—particularly a caregiver in a government-run facility like a VA nursing home. A government employee with particularly high-level access to a nursing home resident’s personal information might succeed in taking over the whole financial life of the victim.

Most would agree that the most horrendous of all forms of nursing home abuse is that of sexual abuse. This can take many forms and mean different things to different people. It has the potential to permanently damage the emotional wellbeing of an elder. One thing to note about sexual abuse (and physical abuse generally), particularly in regard to elderly veterans, is that these people were once physically strong defenders of their country. To find themselves in a position in which they are unable to fend off an abuser must be absolutely emotionally devastating. This is the reason that this type of nursing home abuse can take such a heavy toll.

All forms of abuse are crimes, and they should be reported immediately and dealt with promptly. Abuse that takes place in government-run nursing homes such as those operated by the Veterans Administration should be reported to the administrators of the facility. VA homes have well-established procedures for reporting and following up on cases of nursing home abuse. We also strongly advise victims of nursing home abuse to contact an experienced nursing home abuse attorney and discuss what legal action you can take.

References:
Armed Forces Veteran’s Home Foundation” 2010. http://www.vethomesfoundation.org/

“CBS News – Abuse in the Nursing Home” November 15, 2004. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/11/15/eveningnews/main655704.shtml

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