This week in Crisis Corner: Why Elder Law and Medicaid Planning?
Most people reading this blog have heard Rajiv Nagaich tell the story of how he came to Elder Law. It is a great story and leaves no doubt why he would choose to practice in this area of law. Not all of us have that same personal connection to someone who has suffered through the pain of watching a loved one decline and suffer, so why not join one of the more glamorous practices?
Here is why I do what I do:
Growing up I was fairly small, until high school, and very academic. That, combined with some medical challenges that affected my social interactions, made me a prime target for bullying. However, rather than run from the bullies I sought them out, especially when I was not their target. I constantly inserted myself between mountains of flesh and their intended victims. Maybe it was because I always wanted someone else to be there for me and they weren’t or maybe I just enjoyed playing the role of David versus Goliath. Whatever the reason, I developed a pretty strong “Superhero Complex.” It felt good to save others, even when it meant getting hurt.
When I went to college I had grand plans for becoming a geneticist and curing a lot of diseases. I may be dating myself, but I even had plans for how I would speed up the estimated decades it would take to map the human genome, which turned out to not take much longer than my college career. Then in the summer between my sophomore and junior years I spent a few weeks living in Section 8 housing, doing work with the Rescue Mission and interacting with the residents. A six year-old that was climbing on me like a jungle gym (at the time I was a mountain of flesh) told me that he was going to drop out instead of going to first grade because he would be dead or in jail before he graduated anyway. That fall I changed my classes to meet the prerequisites for a Masters in Teaching program. I went on to teach early childhood for close to 14 years, including a five year stint teaching Special Education Preschool in a low income area where I specialized in students with severe emotional and behavioral disorders. I tried to be the superhero those kids needed so that they would see the possibilities that no one else would show them.
Eventually the stress and strain of being a male preschool teacher and all of the assumptions people made about me got to be too much. I considered becoming a chef or a paralegal and decided on paralegal. During my training I was told that I thought and wrote more like an attorney than a paralegal and that I should be in law school instead, but it was not financially possible at the time. That did not stop me from looking for the glitz and glamour of high powered law. I interned with a firm that handled Personal Injury and Criminal Defense. I worked on murder cases and appeals being heard in front of the State Supreme Court. It was not personally rewarding to me, but I sure felt important.
Then I graduated and had to find a job. No one was even answering my applications, despite what I thought were very impressive credentials. Then a friend in realty convinced an Elder Law Attorney in Tacoma to take me on. I did not have a lot of hands on work on the cases and did more work managing the office and tracking down missing heirs than anything else. After a little less than a year doing that, I was introduced to Rajiv and soon became a Medicaid Specialist for him.
It did not take long before I realized that the people who need to get Medicaid help for a loved one are exactly the sort of people that I wanted to work with. The work requires a lot of math and a lot of thinking outside of the box, not to mention thinking non-linearly. The loved ones who need care and are running out of money are facing one of the biggest bullies there is and without a superhero they are going to get pummeled. Once I realized that I could have fun, using all of my skills, AND I got to return to being a superhero, I was sold. It became my goal to find every trick there was, and some that didn’t really exist until I thought of them, so that I could be the greatest shield my clients could hope for.
My eagerness combined with supervising attorneys who were not always as well versed in Medicaid law and who had a harder time not thinking in a straight line led to some conflict between me and my immediate supervisors, but they left and I stayed. Before long it became clear that the answer was for me to become the attorney so that I would stop driving them away. Rajiv bought in and supported some bizarre work schedules so that I could maintain full-time employment and go to law school at night. Now I get to be the superhero I always wanted to be. I even have a hand-painted thank you card from a client that shows me as the Superhero “Crisis Man” displayed in my office.
So, for me, Elder Law was not a choice born from a personal experience on the other side of the struggle. For me, it was all about finding a place where I can live out my Superhero Complex and go to bed each night knowing that I used my powers to help some of the most desperate victims of some of the worst bullies come out of those situations, relatively, unscathed.
If you or your loved ones are facing outrageous care costs, loss of a life savings, hospitals that tell you that going home is not an option, or any one of a dozen other stresses that come from a scary diagnosis, give me a call. I cannot guarantee a perfect outcome, but I can guarantee that I will fight for you with more passion than you will find in 99% of the attorney offices anywhere in the world. I want to be your superhero.