Kleyman Gives Post Mortem Report on 2015 WHCoA

Published in Woonsocket Call on January 17, 2016

In 1958, Rhode Island Congressman John E. Fogarty, a former bricklayer, introduced legislation calling for a White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) to “promote the dignity, health and economic security of older Americans.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the enacted legislation and the first conference was held in 1961, with subsequent conferences in 1971, 1981, 1995, 2005 and 2015.

Looking back, the 1961 WHCoA played a major role in the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, even the Older Americans Act. Ten years later, the conference’s recommendation’s for automatic cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security ultimately became law in 1975. The founding of the Senate Aging Committee came from recommendations at the 1971 WHCoA.

A Year Marked with Anniversaries

The one-day 2015 WHCoA (usually three days) was actually held at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but with a much smaller assembly than in previous years at Washington hotels, such as in 1995, which had 2,221 delegates and 2005, where about 1,100 selected delegates gathered. But his time, new technologies allowed others to tune in. The White House could only accommodate a few hundred dignitaries.

Over 700 watch parties were held in every state and thousands of people tuned in on Monday, July 13, 2015, to watch the day-long proceedings by live webcast. Over 9,000 people participated, too, through social media on Twitter and Facebook.

But, Paul Kleyman, editor of the Generations Beat Online (GBONews.org), a E-Newsletter for age beat journalist, noted in the Jan. 17, 2016 issue, that this year’s aging conference had no delegate selection process like previous ones. “As we’ve noted previously, though, more than one expert expressed disappointment that the Obama Administration made little effort to muster bipartisan support among GOP congressional members who might well have wanted some representation on the issue going into the 2016 election season. Historically, governors and members of Congress got to pick local constituents in fields from retirement finance to health services with a prestigious delegate appointment to the conference,” says the seasoned journalist who served as a delegate at the 1995 WHCoA.

A Call for an Expansion of Social Security

The WHCoA’s scheduled date in 2015 fell in the year where advocates in aging celebrated the 50th anniversary of Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act as well as the 80th anniversary of Social Security. Kleyman notes that the newly released 34 page WHCoA report (with 49 pages of appendices) says, “The 2015 White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) provided an opportunity to recognize the importance of these key programs as well as to look ahead to the next decade.”

President Obama was sent a letter with 74 Congressional cosigners reminding him that over half of today’s older workers are not expected to be able to have sufficient resources upon their retirement to maintain their current standard of living. Although they called for an expansion of Social Security, Kleyman says discussion was “barely audible” at the aging conference.

In addressing the WHCoA attendees, Obama called for “keeping Social Security strong, protecting its future solvency,” pledging to fight “privatization of the program. Kleyman observed that proposed new rules to help workers increase their retirement “stopped short of supporting stronger benefits that they need.”

It’s a Mixed Bag

But, Kleyman says that aging advocates consider the WHCoA’s recommendations a mixed bag. In his E-newsletter article, he references a Jan. 6, 2015 blog penned by Kevin Prindiville who serves as executive director of Justice in Aging. “The report details piecemeal public actions and private initiatives, but ignores the opportunity to lay out an ambitious policy proposal to address pressing systemic challenges,” he says.

Kleyman also zeros in on Prindiville’s observations as to why this year’s WHCoA was of the scaled down. He observed, “To those who followed the WHCOA closely, this was not a surprise. Congress’ failure to reauthorize the Older Americans Act, and the lack of appropriate funding for the conference, meant WHCOA organizers had to produce a conference without a budget. With little infrastructure and support, the White House did not propose any new big, bold ideas to prepare for a population that is literally booming.”

Kleyman says that attendees were pleased to see a recommendation calling for improving the quality and safety requirements in the nation’s 15,000 long-term care facilities and a proposal to allow low-income and frail home bound elders and people with disabilities to use food stamps for meals on wheels.

Meanwhile, attendees were told at this event that physicians would be paid starting in 2016 to counsel patients about their end-of-life care, adds Kleyman, noting that recommendations did not address the nation’s increasing diversity.  Yet, there was no discussion on hospice and palliative care, affordable senior housing issues, and little discussion of elder abuse, the need for adequate transportation and long-term care, he says.

See You in 2025

According to the Census Bureau, in 2050, the 65-and-older population will be 83.7 million, almost double of what it was in 2012. The 2015 WHCoA conference has taken place with a skyrocketing older population, referred to as the “Graying of America.” Can this year’s conference provide policy makers with a road map to shape the delivery of services for years to come? As Kleyman says, probably not. “So it goes, at least until 2025,” he says.

 

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The Greatest Generation’s Last Hurrah

Published in Pawtucket Times, November 15, 2014

The G.I. Generation, born between 1901 to 1924, (coined the “The Greatest Generation” by nationally acclaimed journalist Tom Brokaw), grew up in the Great Depression, and went on to fight World War II, considered to be the largest and deadliest global military conflict in the world’s history. The world-wide war directly involved more than 100 million people from over 30 countries.

With the enactment of a formal declarations of war in Dec. 1941, the ranks of the United States military, by draft and voluntary enlistment, ultimately swelled to
16 million soldiers. Ultimately, those serving in World War II came from every state, ethnic group and race, from poor and well-to-do families.

World War II veterans put their youth on hold to defend the country. Their ages ranged from ages 17 (with parental permission) to 37 years. When discharged a grateful country’s G.I. Bill Education benefits would send them to college, propelling them into professional careers, giving them a good income to raise a family and to economically spur the economy. .

Brokaw, a well-know American television journalist and author best known as the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, who now serves as a Special Correspondent for NBC News and works on documentaries for other news outlets, claims that this was “the greatest generation any society has ever produced.” He asserted that these men and women fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was just the “right thing to do.”

The Last Man Standing

In their middle years, America’s “The Greatest Generation” would see the passing of the last Civil War veteran. On August 2, 1956, the 20th century veterans would learn about the death of Albert Henry Woolson, 106, the last surviving member of the Grand Army of the Republic, who fight in the nation’s bloody American Civil War. In 1864, Woolson had enlisted as a drummer boy in Company C 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment.

Woolson is considered to be the last surviving Civil War veteran on either side whose status is undisputed. At least three men who died after him claimed to be Confederate veterans but their veteran status has been questioned. .

According to the August 3, 1956 issue of the St. Petersburg Times, upon Woolson’s death, President Dwight D. Eisenhower stated: “The American people have lost the last personal link with the Union Army. His passing brings sorrow to the hearts of all of us who cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War Between the States.”

In 2011, a World War I veteran was nationally recognition, like Civil War Veteran Woolson, for being the last American doughboy. Frank Buckles, 101, had the distinction of being the last survivor of 4.73 million Americans who fought in the “War to End All Wars.” The 16-year old enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1917 and served with a detachment from Fort Riley, driving ambulances and motorcycles near the front lines in France. Buckles left military service with the rank of corporal.

In his final years, Buckles served as Honorary Chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation. As chairman, he called for a World War I memorial similar to other war memorials inside the Washington, D.C. Beltway. He would campaign for the District of Columbia War Memorial to be renamed the National World War I Memorial.

Upon Buckles passing, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, issued a release, stating, We have lost a living link to an important era in our nation’s history,” whose distant generation was the first to witness the awful toll of modern, mechanized warfare. “But we have also lost a man of quiet dignity who dedicated his final years to ensuring the sacrifices of his fellow doughboys are appropriately commemorated,” adds Shinseki.

The Twilight Years of WWII Veterans

On November 11, there were fewer aging World War II veterans attending ceremonies held throughout the nation honoring them. With their medium age pegged at 92 years, many of these individuals are quickly becoming frail, their numbers dwindling as the years go by.

Over the next two decades, America’s World War II soldiers are dying quickly. We will again see another generation of soldiers passing, like Woolson or Buckles.

At the end of World War II, there were 16 million who served our nation in that horrific war. Thirty years ago, when President Ronald Reagan traveled to the battle site of Pointe du Hoc, located at a 100 ft cliff overlooking the English Channel on the coast of Normandy in northern France, there were only 10.7 million U.S. veterans left. The President came to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Normandy invasion, recognizing the American Ranger team that took heavy casualties in capturing the German-occupied cliff.

According to the U.S. Veteran’s Administration, in 2014, our frail World War II veterans are dying at a quick rate of just 555 a day. This means there are only 1.34 million veterans remaining. By 2036, The National World War II Museum predicts there will be no living veterans of this global war that took place from 1939 to 1945, to recount their own personal battle experiences. When this happens their stories, like Woolson and Buckles, will only be told in history books or by television documentaries or by historians and academics.

Last Tuesday, Veterans Day ceremonies and activities were held in 15 Rhode Island communities to honor those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Today, there are only 3,951 World War II veterans alive in the Ocean State. The elderly veteran’s numbers dwindle at these celebrations and even at their reunions because of their frailty and health issues.

We are posed to see a generation of veterans vanish right before our eyes. I say, cherish them while you can. Urge those around you who fought in World War II to tell stories and oral histories, for the sake of future generations. They have much to say, we have much to learn.

The National World War II Museum in Louisiana. To learn more about the Greatest Generation and the global war they fought in, go to http://www.nationalww2museum.org.

My commentary is dedicated to Second Lt. Frank M. Weiss, my father, who died in 2003 at 89 years old.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.