Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs, the Public Guardian and Seniors and People with Disabilities.

This is part of a series of posts describing the cast of characters that might play a role in your guardianship or conservatorship proceeding. I have talked about lawyers, professional fiduciaries, the courts, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affair, and Social Security. In this post I want to talk about three agencies. I combine the three because in practice the agencies to not show up often in guardianship and conservatorship proceedings, but when they do they play and important role.

The Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA) is a state agency that provides a low cost alternative to a professional fiduciary for Oregon veterans.  Under the right circumstances the ODVA will serve as a conservator for Oregon veterans. The ODVA is not associated with the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs, but the ODVA and the USDVA tend to get along fairly well. Because of this amicable relationship the USDVA is often willing to appoint the ODVA as representative payee for federal veterans disability payments. If a disabled veteran has money being paid to him by the USDVA and also has income subject to state court supervision, one way to put all the assets into the hands of the same fiduciary may be to ask the ODVA to handle both sets of funds.

The ODVA takes cases based upon its funding and criteria set within the agency. It won't take every case it is offered. However, if your disabled elder is receiving disability income from the USDVA, you should always check to see whether the ODVA would be a good choice as a fiduciary. The services provided by the ODVA are as good as any private fiduciary in the state and cost far less. If your disabled Oregon veteran is not receiving federal benefits, but there is no appropriate family member or the case presents particular problems, the ODVA may still be the solution you need.

Being a state agency, the ODVA is subject to the budget fluctuations of state government. It's ability to take on further cases at any one time may depend on politics and the current budget.

The Public Guardian

Multnomah County has a public guardian. The public guardian serves as a fiduciary for a certain number of elder and disabled when there is little money and no appropriate family member. The ODVA serves veterans. The public guardian serves those who are profoundly mentally incapacitated, unable to care for themselves, and currently at high risk due to abuse, exploitation or extreme self-neglect. The public guardian has its own criteria for which cases it will accept, and like the ODVA is subject to budget constraints.

Seniors and People With Disabilities (SPD)

Seniors and People with Disabilities (SPD) is an arm of the Oregon Department of Human Services. SPD takes reports of elder abuse or of elders in dangerous living conditions. It investigates abuse and neglect. It reports severe cases of elder abuse to law enforcement for prosecution. Prosecuting criminals, however, only benefits disabled elders in the deterrence effect prosecution has on other would-be criminals. SPD does not normally initiate guardianship or conservatorship proceedings, does not obtain restraining orders to stop further elder abuse, and does not pursue civil remedies against those who have taken advantage of the disabled or elderly. Recent changes in the law have made it easier for DHS to instigate guardianships or conservatorships, but it is still rare for the agency to do so.

Most care and protection of the elderly is done in the private and charitable sector of our communities. Churches provide far more support for and monitoring of the elderly than does government. Long term care centers are privately run. The elder law bar is made up of private practice attorneys. SPD does not work effectively with any of these private sector communities.

Although SPD is a player in the elder law world, it is seldom effective except in the most severe cases. Next time you suspect elder abuse, spend an hour or so trying to find the correct number and then call it in. You will see what I mean. In the average guardianship or conservatorship, SPD is nowhere to be seen.

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