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Allie Yang-Green column: To increase legal aid, invest in public servants | ap

By Allie Yang-Green

Elder abuse and exploitation is a silent crisis affecting every corner of our country. Whether it is mistreatment at an assisted living facility or a parent exploited by an adult child, elder injustice is happening more often than you might think.

Each year in the United States, hundreds of thousands of adults older than 60 are physically or psychologically abused, or neglected or financially exploited. One out of 10 older adults experience elder abuse. But many of the cases go unreported because victims experience fear of retaliation and shame, or are physically or mentally unable to report it.

Public interest law is one critical tool to help curb elder abuse and support victims. The challenge is how to ensure that public interest lawyers (of which there already is a shortage) are positioned to respond to the needs of older adults, especially in underserved communities.

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In rural areas, for example, elder injustices are less likely to be addressed because access to critical legal aid is even more limited. Attracting legal talent with a passion for public service is challenging everywhere, but especially in rural areas where salaries are lower and locations often are remote.

Rural legal aid organizations and nonprofits simply cannot afford to pay entry-level attorneys the salary that corporate New York City firms have no qualms offering. The need, however, is great.

Attorney Megan Wood’s commitment to public interest law led her to do this work at Prairie State Legal Services, serving 17 rural counties in central Illinois. Wood has dedicated her legal career to serving her community as a legal aid lawyer. She has seen the impact that abuse and exploitation has on older adults in her community.

Through her two-year fellowship with Equal Justice Works, Wood is pursuing public interest

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