Veterans Treated by VA Often Have Risk Factors for Elder Abuse

VA Asked to Take Lead Role in Preventing Mistreatment

By Brenda L. Mooney

SEATTLE—The VHA should take a lead role in combatting elder abuse, which affects at least 10% of older adults in the United States, according to a recent medical journal article.

The report in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggested that mistreatment of veterans could be even more common, because the population has many of the factors considered high risk for elder abuse. Specifically, the article noted, VHA patients have a higher prevalence of poor psychological health, poor physical health, functional impairment, cognitive impairment and social isolation than the general population.1

“Little is known about the prevalence and characteristics of elder abuse of veterans, but it is likely that this population is at high risk based on established elder abuse risk factors,” emphasized study authors from the VA Puget Sound Health Care System and the University of Washington, both in Seattle. As a result, they suggested, the VA healthcare system should be at the forefront of resolving the problem.

Veterans at the Spanish Peak Veterans Community Living Center in Walsenburg, CO. A new study is urging VA to help combat elderly abuse, which is much more likely to happen at home than in community facilities such as this. Photo from facility’s website

“As the largest integrated healthcare system in the United States, the VHA has long been a leader in the development of innovative, integrated care programs for older adults,” the article noted. “The VHA has another opportunity to lead by promoting research, clinical care, and education on elder abuse, furthering their mission of serving those who served.”

To that end, the authors outlined a rationale for developing a research agenda for elder abuse at the VHA.

“As the healthcare system is specifically dedicated to meeting the needs of those who served our country, the VHA has often been at the forefront of developing innovative, integrated care programs. Nowhere has this been more evident than in their pioneering research on geriatric syndromes and models of clinical care for veterans in later life,” the authors emphasized. “From the development of long-term care programs within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 1964 to the advent of Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Centers (GRECCs) in the early 1970s to pioneering comprehensive home-based primary care (HBPC) programs and more recently the Medical Foster Home, the VA has always been a leader in using research and education to improve the care of vulnerable older adults.”

The article defined elder abuse as “harm of an older adult by another person or entity that occurs in any setting, in a relationship in which there is an expectation of trust or when an older person is targeted based on age or disability.” The umbrella term includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation, according to the report, with many victims experiencing multiple types at once, according to the report.

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