Mickey Rooney Headlines Senate Hearing on Confronting Growing Problem of Elder Abuse

Legendary actor Mickey Rooney told a packed Senate hearing room last week of the emotional and financial abuse that he has endured in recent years.

"I was eventually and completely stripped of the ability to make even the most basic decisions in my own life," Rooney said. "If elder abuse happened to me, Mickey Rooney, it can happen to anyone."

In fact, financial and physical mistreatment is happening to a large and growing number of "anyones" at a time when government resources to deal with such cases are plateauing or diminishing. Rooney's story was part of a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing exploring the nationwide trends of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of seniors.

At the hearing, the Government Accountability Office released a study estimating that 14 percent of elderly Americans experienced some form of abuse in 2009. However, in all likelihood this is a significant undercount of the dimensions of the problem, witnesses said. A study of elder abuse in New York, also unveiled at the hearing, concluded that for every elder abuse case that is reported, another 23 to 24 go undetected.

In most states, Adult Protective Services (APS) caseworkers are the first responders to reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of vulnerable adults. But according to a new AARP-funded national survey, support for these programs is not keeping pace with the growing crisis. The study found that in 2010, 24 states plus the District of Columbia reported increased calls for APS, with all of the states naming financial exploitation as a cause of the increased calls.

But despite a rise in the number of APS calls, only three reporting states -- Alaska, Idaho, and Nevada -- increased APS spending in 2010, while the rest either maintained current funding levels or actually reduced spending.

The AARP observes that The Elder Justice Act, which was part of the new health reform law, authorizes a direct federal funding stream for state APS programs, as well as money for state grants to test ways to improve APS. Nevertheless, Congress has not yet appropriated these funds.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), who chaired the Senate hearing, urged committee members in attendance to help pass legislation to improve federal, state and local agency cooperation in fighting elder abuse. Kohl later reintroduced his "Elder Abuse Victims Act," which would establish an Office of Elder Justice within the Department of Justice and strengthen the coordinated law enforcement response to cases of elder abuse.

For more on the hearing, click here.

For more on Rooney's testimony, click here. For YouTube excerpts of his testimony, click here.