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Elder benefit specialists and ethical considerations

The Wisconsin Legislature created the Elder Benefit Specialist Program in the late 1970s to provide legal advocacy to older residents of the state. The EBS program is funded with a combination of local, state and federal funds.

At least one specialist serves every Wisconsin county and tribe. EBSs provide free legal services and advocacy to residents who are at least 60 years old. Their services target rural, low-income and minority older populations that have not traditionally had access to legal assistance.

Elder benefit specialists receive ongoing training on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security Retirement and Disability, Supplemental Security Income, FoodShare, housing, consumer debt and health insurance.

The purpose of Wisconsin's EBS program is to provide broad access to public benefits and legal rights to older persons throughout the state. The most important role is as an advocate for older people. In this role, the EBS owes his or her entire devotion to the interests of the client. EBSs strive to promote and preserve the autonomy, dignity, independence and financial security of clients.

The ethical guidelines of the EBS program help specialists to serve their client's interests. These ethical guidelines come from a variety of sources, including the Older Americans Act and the Wisconsin Supreme Court's Rules of Professional Responsibility for attorneys.

Three key concepts — identifying the client, client-centered solutions and ensuring confidentiality — are at the heart of the work.

For more information, or to make a referral, contact Brenda Kohel in Douglas County at (715) 395-7533 Monday or Wednesday, or (715) 394-3611 Tuesday and Thursday.