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Law boosts tools to fight elder abuse

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

New legislation signed by Gov. Ralph Northam will help fight abuse, neglect and exploitation of senior citizens, according to a prosecutor who requested the legislation and 38th District Sen. Ben Chafin (R-Lebanon), who introduced the bill in the Virginia Senate.

“Elder abuse is a growing epidemic in our Commonwealth, yet these cases are under reported and remain very difficult to prosecute for various reasons,” says Chuck Slemp III, commonwealth’s attorney for Wise County and the City of Norton.

Slemp requested the new legislation, which goes into effect July 1 and helps protect adults age 60 and older and physically or mentally incapacitated adults age 18 and older.

The law sets forth a framework whereby local departments of social service and commonwealth attorneys can establish one or separate multidisciplinary teams to review cases at all stages of investigation and prosecution. The team or teams would be made up of professionals from diverse disciplines.

Team goals would be to help identify abused, neglected and exploited adults; coordinate medical, social and legal services for those adults and their families; develop programs to detect and prevent abuse, neglect and exploitation, and promote community awareness of the problem and how to prevent it.

“I am thrilled this legislation will become law to give us more tools in the effort to fight elder crimes and to establish a framework for a team-approach to review these situations,” Slemp added. He expressed gratitude to Chafin and 4th District Delegate Todd Pillion (R-Abingdon), who introduced the House version of the legislation.

“Every day the elderly are taken advantage of financially and abused and it is our responsibility in the General Assembly to help protect the most vulnerable of our citizens. Commonwealth Attorneys and law enforcement need all of the tools available to effectively prosecute elder abuse and financial exploitation,” said Chafin, whose district includes Pulaski County. “Multidisciplinary response teams will aid in the prosecution of these crimes and will bring these criminals to justice.”

Pillion added, “With an aging population, particularly in rural areas, it’s critical we form the systems and processes needed to help safeguard folks who may find themselves in abusive situations.”

Slemp said he’s hopeful the new legislation will encourage localities to focus more resources on the “epidemic” of elder abuse.

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