Virginia forming senior abuse task force to help seniors and prosecute abusers

SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA (WJHL)- Both Virginia and Tennessee are making strides to protect the most vulnerable citizens from abuse.

A pending Tennessee bill aims for harsher punishments for people who abuse the elderly and people with disabilities.

This comes after Tennessee launched an Elder Abuse Task Force following a News Channel 11 investigation.  Then this year because of a new state law, Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigative Teams, VAPIT, launched in districts in Tennessee.

VAPIT are teams made up of district attorneys, law enforcement, and protective services, among others, who get help for the victims and punishment for offenders. Now Virginia is hoping to launch a similar program.

Cases of the vulnerable adult population abused, taken advantage of, or exploited often go unreported and unpunished because of the many barriers to prosecuting these cases and getting the adults help, according to state prosecutors.

In Tennessee, Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said since launching VAPIT in January, the team has looked at 88 reports of abuse. Staubus said those cases have lead to help for the adults, and dozens of investigations.

“Because of the VAPIT team we got extraordinarily more reportings, more awareness, and were able to importantly provide services for vulnerable adults that might otherwise have fell between the cracks,” Staubus said.

Now Wise County, VA Commonwealth Attorney Chuck Slemp hopes to do the same in Virginia.

“(It is) the most growing segment of the population in our region and so we’ve got to find ways that we support seniors and prevent them from being abused and neglected,” Slemp said.

He said in June he plans to hold the first meeting of the joint senior abuse task force.

“We’re going to bring together community partners talk about the problems that prevent us from being able to prosecute these types of crimes,” Slemp said.

Slemp said the team also plans to meet with state lawmakers, “To try and find easy fixes and better solutions to this problem and raise awareness of this problem that exists in so many of our communities.”

And here in Tennessee, Senator Rusty Crowe of Johnson City joined others introducing legislation, that’s now pending, that would increase punishments for offenders.

If passed, it would also lead to additional penalties when people with mental or physical disabilities are the victims of financial exploitation.

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