New AARP Board member Jacob Lozada, Ph.D, brings a packed agenda to the post he assumed in May. On his to-do list: rallying support for Divided We Fail, increasing AARP’s diversity, strengthening the organization’s outreach to the U.S. Hispanic community, and boosting membership in his native Puerto Rico.
“I can help [explain] to my Puerto Rican people why they should join AARP,” Lozada says. “The issues in Puerto Rico are basically the issues of the Hispanics in the United States—financial stability and health care.”
The longtime civil servant and retired colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Department brings valuable experience gained in prominent positions such as assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and special advisor to the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. He owns a Fairfax, Virginia, consulting firm specializing in health care management. In an exclusive interview, he gives AARP Segunda Juventud readers his perspective on issues facing U.S. Hispanics and how he hopes to boost AARP’s profile in his native Puerto Rico.
Q. You’ve just been installed on AARP’s Board of Directors. What made you want to serve?
A. AARP is a unique world-class organization. You’re talking about a nonpartisan membership organization with a huge membership and the power to ensure that some of those things that are important to us as citizens are maintained. My motivation was to be able to contribute, perhaps in a small measure, with the experience I have gained as a military officer, as a government executive, and as a private-sector international consultant. I hope [the Hispanic community] can look up and see someone who has worked very hard and is now able to be a [board] member of this great organization.
Q. What will your role on the AARP Board bring to Puerto Rico?
A. Hopefully, I can help bring to my Puerto Rican people the value of AARP. And perhaps the fact that they see a Puerto Rican on the national board will give them the message that we are inclusive—that there is someone who looks and speaks like us and is part of an organization in Washington, D.C., that understands our issues.
Q. What would you say are the biggest social issues facing older Latinos living in the United States?
A. The two biggest issues are the high cost of health-care services and the financial status of Hispanics when they retire. The question that lingers in a large percentage of our community is, “Am I going to have plenty of money saved for retirement?” They [health care and financial security] go hand-in-hand.
Q. And in Puerto Rico?
A. The issues in Puerto Rico are basically the issues of Hispanics in the U.S.: financial stability and health care. [But] it’s interesting to know that for Medicare and Medicaid funding [levels], Puerto Rico is not treated the same as the states. The funding is not at the same level.
The issue of Social Security is very important because in Puerto Rico … a large majority of the population thinks of Social Security as their retirement. When you have someone who’s surviving on a meager pension and Social Security and has to pay $3.50, $4, $5, and $10, or whatever a day for one pill, not taking into consideration physician fees and hospitals, it can be challenging. The issues are the same, if not stronger, in Puerto Rico.
Q. How can Hispanics take a more proactive approach in the areas of health care and financial stability?
A. There are two issues here. One is at the macro level, which has to do with Hispanics and Latinos getting together, and that is very difficult … because our community is not united. We do not understand the political, social, and economic power that it would bring. The other thing that we have to do, at the individual level, is become actively engaged in the issues. In some of the countries we came from, we were led to believe it’s up to the government to solve our problems—but the action has to come from us. We are the ones who elect the government officials and we are the ones who should be more active and proactive … and after that person gets elected, we need to hold him [or her] accountable.
Q. Let’s talk about diversity, which is part of AARP’s mission. What value should we find in the work force reflecting the country’s population?
A. Not only the federal government, but also any organization in our nation, should reflect America. There have been studies in terms of team-building that demonstrate that teams that are diverse have a more effective end product than non-diverse teams. When you come to the issue of diversity, there are two groups here that have responsibility. One group is the organization. It has the responsibility to make opportunities available. The other is the individual. You must think, “I need to avail myself to the opportunities that this institution is providing.”
Q. What role has volunteer work played in your life?
A. My mother always taught me that life was about giving back. She used to say that “we come to this earth to serve, not to be served.” When I was in the military, I was involved in several mentorship programs. I founded an organization for the University of Puerto Rico in the Washington, D.C., area, and I’m very active in that. When I was in the federal government, I got involved in many other volunteer activities.
After you’ve reached a level of achievement, I think life is about reaching out, reaching down, helping others, pushing others up, and getting others closer. It’s about setting an example. Giving back to a nation that has given us so much is the bottom line.
Q. How will you leverage your experience as a board member?
A. I have mentioned to the members of the selection committee that I am willing to serve in any committee in any capacity. I am also willing and able to share from my experiences with not just members of the board, but also members of the AARP staff. So again, it goes back to: I’m here to serve … and I have my luggage packed for whatever AARP wants me to do.
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