stampoutelderabuse
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stampoutelderabuse

“Stamp Out Elder Abuse” started with a stamp—and a message

Why Helen Karr has worked for decades to help stamp out elder abuse.

Helen Karr, Esq. is the founder of the campaign to create the semipostal (fundraising) stamp. Naturally, Helen launched the campaign with a stamp and a letter, posted May 23, 2000.

In 2019 the Stamp Out Elder Abuse Act was re-introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives (by Congressman Peter King) and U.S. Senate (by Senator Susan Collins, who authored the legislation in 2018). Next, it needs to be enacted—with your help.

In late July 2019, Helen (here: Gramere, her name as a grandmother) sat down in her home in Monterey, California, with her grandson, Matthew, to talk about her work — and motivation.

Elder justice advocate Helen Karr and grandson Matthew Sullivan. Monterey, California. July 2019. Photograph: Courtesy of Helen Karr.

Matthew:

Gramere, thanks for letting me talk to you about your years of work to protect seniors. Didn’t you start this when you were 60?

Gramere:

Indeed! When I was working at beauty salons, I heard so many sad stories from customers about elder abuse and exploitation. So, at 60, I decided to get a law degree so I could help people who needed legal advice. I started to focus on addressing financial exploitation.

In 2005 as a senior legislator* I advocated fora California law that mandates banks to report suspected elder financial abuse.

* A California “senior legislator” is not a political position but an advocate for seniors.

Matthew:

What is the greatest challenge to fighting abuse?

Gramere:

There is so much lack of awareness. To create more awareness, in [year] I helped get May designed as Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Awareness Month in California.

Matthew:

It this where the “elder abuse awareness” stamp you’ve been working on comes in? How long have you been trying to get this done?

Gramere:

Yes, I wanted to help created greater awareness, nationwide. I first thought about the stamp in around 2000.

Matthew:

Wow, that’s a long time! Why have you been so persistent? I admire that by the way…

Gramere:

Elder abuse is so pervasive in our society, it happens in every family, or extended family. It is so evil that most people don’t want to think about it. Or, others think it is only physical abuse that happens in nursing homes. I have discovered that financial abuse, often called financial exploitation, happens more often than physical abuse. And that physical abuse and be coupled with financial exploitation. I thought about the semipostal stamp because it would raise awareness.

Matthew:

What is a “semipostal” stamp?

Gramere:

It’s a stamp that has the normal first-class postage plus a small donation that raises additional funds that go to up to two federal agencies.

Matthew:

Ah! Got it. So how would the funds be used?

Gramere:

Work by two federal agencies* will help prevent and respond to elder abuse. The promotion and sale of the stamp by the U.S. Postal Service will help raise awareness and educate everyone about elder abuse crimes, including elder financial abuse. Then, maybe people would not ignore that abuse is happening.

* The Administration for Community Living in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Matthew:

I’m sure you have some personal examples of elder financial abuse that you’ve heard along your journey. Are they common and do you have a story you can tell?

Gramere:

I can give you many. However, an elder single man relied on his nephew to buy groceries, deliver mail and pay bills. The nephew did buy groceries, once in a while, and he did pay the few bills like taxes; but he helped himself to his uncle’s bank account. His uncle did not know this was happening because the nephew failed to give him the bank statements. This nephew spent the money on himself and not on the uncle.

Matthew:

I’ve heard stories like this from my friends, too. Do you have any others?

Gramere:

My friend hired a caretaker to help with taking her disabled husband to his doctor’s appointments. The caretaker befriended my friend and gained her trust. My friend let her use her credit card to purchase groceries. Well, my friend later found out, the caretaker used the credit card for her own amusement weekend including gas, two nights at a four-star hotel, and an expensive rock concert. The caretaker also stole the husband’s credit card to pay for her boyfriend’s trip. Now, my friend always gets a background check on people she has to hire.

Matthew:

That’s infuriating! Is there somewhere I can go to learn more about this and what I can do to help?

Gramere:

Well you can always ask me. If you are suspicious that someone is being abused physically, financially, or neglected, you can always report to adult protective services. And, on our web site advocating for the stamp, we are including resources about organizations and agencies that can help.

Matthew:

What is the most importing thing that families can do?

Gramere:

For started we can talk — we can have conversations just as we are doing, now. Then we can act.

Call to Action —

To help stamp out elder abuse, please visit stampoutelderabuse.org — and urge your Congressional representatives to pass the Stamp Out Elder Abuse Act of 2019.

Please consider posting a ‘response’ at the end of the page. Thank you.

* * *

Resources — select articles about, or (co-)authored by, Helen Karr, Esq.

Scott, Julia M. and William Love. Pacifica woman fights against abuse. East Bay Times. August 5, 2005.

Financial Elder Abuse Reporting Act of 2005, as amended. California, SB 1018. Helen Karr advocated for the introduction and passage of this legislation.

Karr, Helen. Elder abuse — a silent crime. California Bar Journal. State Bar of California. May, 2010.

Helen Karr , Elder Abuse Specialist, Purpose Prize Fellow 2011, Encore.org

Riess, Steve and Helen Karr. (2012) Civil Elder Financial Abuse for Prosecutors / Criminal Elder Financial Abuse for Civil Lawyers. Institute on Aging.

Said, Carolyn. Senior financial abuse is on the rise. SF Gate, San Francisco Chronicle. March 28, 2013. (Interview with Helen Karr.)

Capano, Kristen. How Can We Protect Seniors from Elder Abuse? An interview with attorney and advocate for the elderly, Helen Karr, Part One.
SevenPonds. June 17, 2017; Part Two. June 24, 2017.

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