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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Vermont Advocates Settle Lawsuit over Delays in Abuse Investigations

By Kim Brittenham, Vermont CIL

Advocates in Vermont are feeling hopeful that abuse of people with disabilities and elders will lessen after reaching a settlement with the state last summer. After years of untimely, inadequate investigations and a backlog of 300 Adult Protective Services (APS) cases, Vermont Legal Aid, Disability Rights Vermont (DRVT), Community of Vermont Elders (COVE) and individual plaintiffs Sarah Launderville and Marge Powers sued the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL) in December 2011.

Throughout the lawsuit, individual plaintiffs were dismissed from the case and various Area Agencies on Aging joined the suit.

A settlement reached in August 2013 includes:

  • policy changes in the APS policy manual;
  • a quarterly file review panel, which includes Vermont Independent Living (VCIL) Director Sarah Launderville, reporting to the APS subcommittee;
  • APS subcommittee of the DAIL Advisory Board and the DAIL Advisory Board; and
  • 18-month court enforcement of the agreement.

The Adult Protective Services program is set up, according to its website, “to protect vulnerable adults whose health and welfare may be adversely affected by abuse, neglect or exploitation; raise public awareness of adult abuse issues; and educate mandatory reporters about their reporting responsibilities.”

State Commissioner of DAIL and state representatives support the processes outlined in the settlement and seem pleased to have better tools to standardize staff responses to complaints.  Lawmakers and the state administration appear relieved to have a long-running controversy behind them.

Vulnerable Vermonters can now expect the state will investigate a claim of abuse within 48 hours. Advocates can expect that all reports will be closed within 60 days and an independent panel will be following up with the state to review the files and processes used to address each case.

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