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Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole Speaks at the White House World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Event


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you for that kind introduction.

The Attorney General very much wanted to be here, but is headed to Canada, where he will be meeting with his foreign counterparts. It is therefore my privilege to join my colleagues, Secretary Sebelius and Director Cordray, and all of you today to commemorate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

At the outset, I want to commend Secretary Sebelius for forming the Elder Justice Coordinating Council. This critical first step firmly demonstrates this Administration’s commitment to protecting our older Americans and we look forward to working with our federal partners on the Council.

It’s worth noting that in anticipation of the Coordinating Council, the Department of Justice, with support from HHS, began working earlier this year on developing an Elder Justice Roadmap.  The Elder Justice Roadmap project has already sought input from hundreds of stakeholders from around the country in order to help identify potential policy, practice, and research priorities in the field of elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.  We expect the results of this Roadmap to help inform the Coordinating Council as it moves ahead in developing its strategic agenda.

I also want to thank Kathy Greenlee and her staff at the Administration on Aging for their tireless efforts to protect our older Americans and for organizing today’s event.

Elder abuse is a hidden epidemic that annually impacts the health and well-being of six million older people, as well as their families and caretakers. It includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse; neglect; and what we’re here to talk about today -- financial exploitation. Victims come from all ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. And sadly, perpetrators of financial exploitation are more likely to be family members than strangers.

This type of elder abuse depletes the resources of individuals, families, businesses, and public programs including Medicare and Medicaid, by billions each year, placing enormous burdens on our health care, financial, and judicial systems.

For me, and for today’s Department of Justice, protecting older Americans is a top priority that we advance on multiple fronts.

For example, in order to protect the financial integrity of the Medicare program, upon which so many of our older Americans rely, both the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services decided early on to make combating healthcare fraud an enforcement priority and created the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team, or HEAT.

Since HEAT began in May 2009, we’ve recovered over $8 billion dollars in cases involving fraud against the Medicare program and other federal health care programs. We believe this has sent a strong and clear message that Medicare fraud will not be tolerated and that DOJ and HHS will act swiftly to where it does occur.

Just as important as protecting the fiscal integrity of the Medicare program, is our commitment to ensuring that our nation’s nursing homes and other health care providers are actually providing the care and services to which our Medicare beneficiaries are entitled, rather than exploiting those beneficiaries (and the Medicare program) for their own profit. Tony West, the Department’s Acting Associate Attorney General, has taken a particularly active role in supporting these cases and will discuss a particularly egregious example of financial exploitation this afternoon.

Protecting older Americans from consumer scams and fraud is also a top priority of the Department. Just this past March, the Department hosted an historic consumer protection summit that brought together federal and state law enforcement and regulators with consumer advocates to harness our collective experiences, to discuss strategies for enhancing our civil and criminal enforcement of consumer fraud crimes, and to increase public awareness about common schemes so that ordinary citizens can fight back themselves.

Likewise, the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch has done terrific work combating fraud on the elderly as part of a broader emphasis on fraud targeting vulnerable populations. We have had successful prosecutions of a number of fraudsters targeting the elderly through reverse mortgage fraud scams and lottery scams. And we have enhanced public awareness about these schemes through collaboration with others such as AARP.

Our health care fraud and consumer protection efforts are just some of the ways that the Department protects our nation’s older Americans from financial exploitation. But while we have made strides to address this form of elder abuse, enforcement alone is not a complete strategy. We can’t simply prosecute our way out of this problem.

Everyone here today knows that the way we can be most effective in protecting older Americans from financial exploitation is by combining our resources and expertise, and by collectively deploying the myriad tools at our disposal.

We need the federal agencies represented on this stage, Adult Protective Services workers, long term care ombudsmen, domestic violence advocates, geriatric specialists, the financial services industry, health care providers, advocates, state and local law enforcement and prosecutors, and – what has been a “missing link” in this area – civil legal aid lawyers.

Legal services programs have a unique opportunity to prevent and remedy elder abuse, especially the scourge of financial exploitation. For example, they can help prevent mortgage foreclosures resulting from a family member’s theft of a senior’s life savings; they can counsel worried older clients about legal options for responding to debt brought on by a financial scam, or better yet counsel them on how to avoid the scam in the first place; they can advise clients on how to revoke a power of attorney that is being used by someone unscrupulous to exploit them; and they can offer elders a safer future by representing abused clients in obtaining a protective order.

While this expertise can be critical to preventing or addressing abuse, legal services program staff too often don’t have the specialized training on how to identify and support older victims, and how to harness their existing expertise to respond to older victims’ special needs.

That’s why, with the essential cooperation of Legal Services Corporation President Jim Sandman, who is with us here today, I’m delighted to announce the “Missing Link Project,” a new collaborative effort by the Department’s Elder Justice Initiative, our Office for Victims of Crime, and our Access to Justice Initiative to develop such training materials for legal services providers. President Sandman has pledged that when the training has been developed, it will be made available to all LSC programs, which together provide critically needed services to every county in this country. We are hopeful that the trained legal aid lawyers’ efforts will be further leveraged by private lawyer pro bono volunteers, thus increasing the overall capacity to serve elderly victims. Jim, we thank you for your commitment. And I also want to thank Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary and the staff of the various offices involved for their strong support of this effort.

Too many elderly Americans are suffering alone. Together we can change that.

We know the importance of your work on the front lines of the battle against elder abuse and financial exploitation. What you do every day makes an extraordinary difference in ordinary lives. I want you to know that the U.S. Department of Justice is honored to be your partner.

Thank you.

Consumer Protection
Updated October 22, 2014