NAELA Bestows Sen. Gillibrand with Advocate of the Year Award

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Award is given for Sen. Gillibrand’s efforts to ensure that provisions that aid children with disabilities of military families were included in 2015 National Defense Authorization Act.

(Left to right) Ousman Laast, Special Assistant for Community Affairs, Office of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and NAELA Past-President Howard S. Krooks, CELA, CAP

Sen. Gillibrand's persistence and efforts have advanced the cause of aiding the population of individuals with special needs in our country.

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) bestowed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) with its “Advocate of the Year Award” due to her championing of provisions that protect children with disabilities of members of the military by allowing their parents’ survivor benefits to go into a special needs trust.

The provisions became part of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) thanks to Sen. Gillibrand’s efforts as chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel for the 113th Congress. President Obama signed the legislation on December 19, 2014.

The provisions were substantively similar to the Disabled Military Child Protection Act sponsored by now-retired Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) in their respective chambers of Congress.

“Sen. Gillibrand's persistence and efforts have advanced the cause of aiding the population of individuals with special needs in our country,” said NAELA President Bradley J. Frigon, CELA, CAP. Previously, the provisions were included in the 2013 Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act, but were dropped in conference with the House.

Before the provisions became law, if the military parent’s survivor benefits went directly to the child with disabilities, the child risked losing his or her long-term care supports through Medicaid, a means-tested program.

By contrast, special needs trusts allow persons with disabilities to receive assistance through Medicaid to pay for the high costs of long-term care and still afford basic expenses such as personal care items, books, and clothing. In return, states have the right to recoup the costs of its public assistance from the trust after the person with disabilities passes away.

“How to protect our most vulnerable loved ones after our deaths is a fear for many parents. Sen. Gillibrand’s hard work will make it so military families with a child with disabilities can worry less about their child’s future and financial security,” Frigon added.

Members of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) are attorneys who are experienced and trained in working with the legal problems of aging Americans and individuals of all ages with disabilities. Established in 1987, NAELA is a non-profit association that assists lawyers, bar organizations, and others. The mission of NAELA is to establish NAELA members as the premier providers of legal advocacy, guidance, and services to enhance the lives of people with special needs and people as they age. NAELA currently has members across the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. For more information, visit

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Abby Matienzo, Communications Associate
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