WASHINGTON — An elderly man disguised in a gray wig and dark glasses joined law enforcement officials and social workers today in telling Congress abuse of the elderly is on the rise and they need help.
"I have lost my dignity," a Massachusetts man identified only as "Mr. Smith" told the joint House subcommittee on health and long-term care led by Rep. Claude Pepper, 84, the oldest member of Congress.
Smith, who is 75, told the subcommittee how his 42-year-old son made his life miserable and attacked him last year with a hatchet.
"I am a victim of elderly abuse by a family member," Smith said. "I am here to emphasize that abuse of the elderly is going on everywhere in this country."
Scott Harshbarger, district attorney of Middlesex County, Mass., who accompanied Smith to the hearing, said Smith's story is not unusual.
"The elderly victim is a target because of age," Harshbarger said. "The elderly, like the poor and children, because of their relative or perceived powerlessness, suffer most dramatically from the effects of actual crime as victims."
The subcommittee also heard testimony from Lois Pope, who worked at the U.S. Soldiers and Airmen's Home, where she embezzled $170,000 from 32 patients.
Pope, who is serving a prison term, described how she opened joint bank accounts for residents at the home because they wanted bank accounts not controlled by their families.
"I know now what I did was wrong and I intend to make restitution," she said. "I know I violated the trust that was given me and regret what I did. I won't be able to rest until I make it right."
Pepper noted the "shocking" statistics that elderly abuse is on the rise nationally with 1.1 million victims, including many attacked by members of their own family.