Even though Veterans Affairs’ Community Living Centers’ mission statement includes the goal of “restoring each Veteran to his or her highest level of well-being,” veteran abuse is still a major issue across the nation’s VA residential settings and nursing homes. Our nation’s military vets are already a vulnerable demographic, prone to recurrent health problems, high drug addiction risk, and a cocktail of mental health issues. Elder abuse can only make their living in the golden years worse.
Vets in VA Facilities More Likely to Be Abused
It is estimated that 1 in 10 military veterans have suffered some form of abuse in one of VA’s assisted living or nursing facilities. Elderly abuse includes any action or inaction that leads to the harm or distress of an older adult by an individual or organization in a setting where “there is an expectation of trust or when an older person is targeted based on age or disability.” In the U.S.A., elderly abuse is just as widespread as child abuse and nearly just as underreported.
Elderly abuse includes physical and mental harm, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, and neglect. One of the common forms of veteran abuse in VA nursing homes is inadequate treatment.
There have been countless instances when medication was withheld from patients, which led to their subsequent hospitalization or death. Other vets received double doses of medication which led to health complications or worsening of their symptoms. In some cases, antipsychotics were given to unruly patients, which made mentally ill veterans’ condition even more unstable.
What’s more, because veterans are more at risk of developing depression, dementia, and post-traumatic stress disorder, they are more likely to be abused in understaffed and often underpaid facilities. No caregiver in the world can put up with an uncooperative patient after two straight twelve-hour shifts while working on a meager pay.
Elder Abuse Often Goes Unreported
Of the nation’s 40 million people aged 65 or older, around 5 million suffer at least one instance of abuse every year. However, in only 1 in 25 cases a formal complaint is filed against the facility where the abuse occurred. Seniors living in nursing homes are more likely to be abused than those living in their own homes, but veterans living in VA assisted living or nursing facilities have the highest rate of elder abuse of all categories.
Elder abuse, however, is most of the time underreported. Some of the reasons behind this phenomenon include:
- Patients are affected by physical or mental disabilities, which makes it nearly impossible for them to report or even realize the abuse.
- The patient may depend on the abuser for food, water, medication, and shelter and is afraid of retaliation.
- Abused patients may be afraid that their situation could get worse if they report the abuse, which is often true.
- Some patients are afraid that they might get transferred to another location if they report the abuse.
- Sexual abused elders are too ashamed to talk about the abuse or they aren’t believed by their loved ones because of their pre-existing mental health issues.
- Some seniors do not report the abuse, neglect, or exploitation because they genuinely care about the caregiver and don’t want him or her to get into trouble.
Signs of Elder Abuse You Should Be Looking out For
Even if your loved one cannot or is unwilling to report the abuse, there are several telltale signs of elder abuse or neglect you should pay attention to:
- There are mysterious bruises, scars, burns, cuts, and open wounds on the elder’s body. Some elders might be tied to their beds or wheelchairs when you’re not around. So, look for signs of physical restraint around their ankles, knees, and wrists.
- Bone fracture and sprains can also be a telltale sign of abuse
- Bruises keep popping up on a patient’s body and no one knows why
- The patient takes medications that his or her doctor hasn’t prescribed.
- Sexually Transmitted Disease (STDs) in an elderly person may be a sign of sexual abuse
- Bleeding or bruises in the pelvic area may also be a sign of sexual abuse
- Unexplained and sudden changes in behavior may signal physical, emotional, or sexual abuse (e.g., an otherwise chatty person suddenly becomes withdrawn and silent.)
- The elderly person becomes depressed or loses interest in their hobbies or favorite persons.
- Regressive behaviors such as rocking back and forth or sucking can be telltale signs of elderly abuse.
- Sudden weight loss, bedsores, messy appearance, and loss of appetite may be tied to neglect or abuse.
What Can You Do About Elderly Abuse?
If you believe that a loved one in a VA facility may be the victim of abuse, exploitation, or neglect, you can call Adult Protective Services (APS) and report the potential abuse. You don’t need proof that the abuse has occurred. If the abused person is in immediate danger dial 911.
You could also talk to a personal injury attorney to learn how to report nursing home abuse in the state where the victim lives. Most personal injury attorneys will offer a free case evaluation and show you what the best course of action is depending on the severity of the abuse, location, and personal circumstances.
And never ignore the signs of elder abuse in a stranger. Take immediate action as if he or she were your family. Our vets deserve better and, if we sweep the abuse issues plaguing this demographic under the rug, each of us or a loved one could one day be next in line for abuse.