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Column: May is Older Americans Month

Q: What is Older Americans Month?A: For the last half-century, the month of May is dedicated to recognize the contributions and concerns of this growing demographic in American society. The population of those age 65 or older represent about one ...

Q: What is Older Americans Month?
A: For the last half-century, the month of May is dedicated to recognize the contributions and concerns of this growing demographic in American society. The population of those age 65 or older represent about one in every seven Americans. What’s even more remarkable is the number of persons who reach age 100 has doubled in the last quarter-century.
First launched in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy, the annual presidential declaration designating May as Older Americans Month gives policymakers and advocates a platform to raise awareness and identify challenges facing older citizens. It helps trigger conversation to produce specific proposals to improve their quality of life. This year’s theme salutes the legacies of older Americans who have enriched the fabric of our communities, blazing trails in their careers, families, individual aspirations and civic engagement.
Longevity is a gift of modern American society. As Americans live longer than ever before, new doors of opportunities are opened later in life. It also poses challenges to the nation’s health care, housing and transportation infrastructure and responsibilities for public safety and law enforcement. Extending the quality of life and standard of living for years after retirement is impacted by mental health and physical wellness, financial security, social engagement and family and community ties.
The nation’s public retirement programs, including Social Security and Medicaid, were established decades ago to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable citizens among us. Upholding the financial stability of these programs is as important to current beneficiaries as it is to the generations that follow. The way society treats and cares for its older generations - who served America in uniform and spent their lifetimes paying taxes and working to leave the world a better place - reflects our nation’s character. For their legacy of service and sacrifice, America owes older generations a debt of gratitude and assurance they will live out their years with dignity and respect.

Q: What policy issues for older Americans are you advancing in Washington?
A: My advocacy extends across the board to help ensure older Americans live life to the fullest with dignity, security and opportunity.
Nearly 15 percent of our state is age 65 and older. Many older residents live in rural areas hours away from urban medical centers. Keeping access to health care providers and vital health care services in hometowns across Iowa is a high legislative priority for me. I’ve also written legislation to support family caregivers, make long-term care insurance more accessible for workers and improve retirement savings tools.
In addition to strengthening financial and health care security, I’m also working to stop exploitation of America’s seniors, from fraudsters draining their bank accounts to wrongdoers taking advantage of nursing home residents. Financial crimes are ripping off older citizens to the tune of $2.9 billion each year. Experts predict this number will continue to rise as wrongdoers target older Americans and their retirement nest eggs.
As former chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, I have continued my advocacy for older citizens throughout my tenure chairing the Senate Finance Committee and today as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. From here, I recently called upon the Justice Department’s Elder Justice Initiative for a full accounting about its steps to shut down financial exploitation schemes targeting seniors. With nearly $3 billion lost every year to fraud and other forms of financial exploitation, the United States government needs to step up its efforts to deter wrongdoers and investigate and prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law. I’ve asked for a full accounting of its work to get the facts out on the table. We need to deploy the appropriate resources and prosecutorial tools to root out financial crimes targeting older citizens, including such scams as Ponzi schemes, lottery jackpots, government impersonation scams and other fraudulent gimmicks.
Secondly, I’m working to crack down on a disturbing problem that’s emerging in nursing homes across the nation. Years ago, I led investigations into the quality of care in nursing homes that launched important improvements for better enforcement of health and safety standards for nursing home residents. My work led to more effective accountability and transparency tools to empower families to find the best care for a loved one. Most recently, I’ve written the nation’s Attorney General and the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services about a disturbing trend in which nursing home workers are posting degrading pictures of residents under their care on social media.
Making the decision to place a loved one in a nursing home is a difficult decision for many families. They should not have to worry that their grandparent or mom or dad may be a victim of abusive treatment and exploitation on social media for the amusement of workers who are hired to take care of them. I’m calling upon the nation’s top law enforcement agency, the U.S. Justice Department, to step up and get involved in the prevention of these crimes and to hold perpetrators accountable to the fullest extent allowed under the law. I’m also tracking down answers from the Department of Health and Human Services as well as nursing home associations to find out how widespread this problem is and nip it in the bud before it becomes a pervasive crime in nursing homes. HHS is responsible for enforcing nursing home standards and nursing home associations play a major role in providing best practice guidelines for nursing homes to follow, such as ensuring adequate background checks are used in hiring employees.
Using my oversight authority, I’ll continue working to make sure America stands up for older Americans during the month of May and every single day of every month of the year.

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