SNA Member Wins Prestigious Powley Award

Special Needs Alliance member Patricia Sitchler, CELA, of La Vernia, Texas, is the 2017 Powley Elder Law Award, presented annually to a NAELA (National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys) member for promoting greater understanding of the rights and needs of the elderly and people with special needs.

The award includes $1000 for Sitchler to direct to charities that serve people with disabilities, and she has selected Mobile Loaves & Fishes, Inc. Community First! Village, Austin, Texas. Community First! Village provides affordable housing and a supportive community for persons with disabilities who have been chronically homeless.

The award caps a 25-year career, during which she has helped individuals with disabilities and their families plan for lives of dignity and financial security. Her practice has spanned special needs trusts, Medicaid eligibility, guardianship, estate planning and elder law.

Sitchler is modest when asked why she believes she was chosen for the Powley Award. “Early on, I recognized that doing the best for my clients would take team work. You can do so much more when you combine insights from people with different backgrounds and experiences. For example, I had a brilliant legal assistant, Kathy Lynch, whom I hired away from Medicaid, and she was instrumental in developing some of the creative solutions we put together. When we added assistant Leigh Ann Qualia, our team made one hell of an attorney.”

She believes that the stigma attached to receiving government benefits is among the biggest challenges facing people with disabilities today. “There’s a widespread assumption that if someone who isn’t working receives Medicaid or SSI, they’re a ‘cheat,’ and that attitude is shaping legislation that’s increasingly harsh.”

Sitchler began her career as a real estate attorney, but became intrigued when she was asked, as a favor, to look into the Medicaid implications of a Crummey trust. “That was back in the early nineties, and there weren’t many attorneys focused on benefits law. I thought it was fascinating. And over the years, I’ve found special needs law much more fulfilling than many other practice areas would have been. When I’d help parents protect a child with disabilities, they’d be ecstatic. It became a way to give back to the community through my profession.”

Over the years, she has helped to draft special needs legislation and has testified before the Texas legislature. She has been an adjunct professor of elder law at St. Mary’s University School of Law since 1998 and has regularly spoken at legal conferences.

She has been recognized many times for excellence, including citations by Best Lawyers in American, Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Women Lawyers and Texas Monthly Super Lawyers.

She received her JD, magna cum laude, from St. Mary’s University Law School and a BA in mathematics from Trinity University.