By Jody Smith
I felt a sense of personal loss when I heard the news that Jennifer Jaff had passed away. She had written articles for EmpowHER for a time and I had the pleasure of working with her briefly.
As I learned more about Jaff's life, I saw that there was so much more to this remarkable woman than I had realized. A profoundly wounded warrior herself, she nevertheless threw her full force into battle over decades, for others who were also chronically ill.
Jaff was diagnosed with Crohn's disease when she was 19 years old and attending college. Crohn's is an autoimmune condition. The body attacks itself, resulting in chronic inflammation and pain in the gastrointestinal tract.
But Crohn's didn't stop Jaff from becoming a lawyer. She received a bachelor's degree from Queens College of the City University of New York.
In 1984, she graduated with honors from Georgetown University Law Center after she had earned membership in phi beta kappa along with many awards. At Georgetown, Jaff was on staff at the Georgetown Law Journal. Here she published more than a dozen law review articles about women's rights and health care fraud.
For four years after graduation, Jaff taught at Vermont Law School and University of Miami School of Law.
Jaff clerked on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for Judge Danny J. Boggs, learning a great deal about judicial decision-making.
In 1990 after her clerkship, Jaff went to Connecticut where she became an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut Law School. She taught and practiced Administrative Law, Civil and Political Rights, and Women and Law, publishing articles in these areas as well.
She spent five years in the Connecticut attorney general's office. While there she worked in health care and social services, and created a health insurance consumer-advocacy program, negotiating with health insurance companies and HMOs.
She left there for two years to lobby Congress for national women's organization in Washington D.C. and was a partner in the Sprenger & Lang, PLLC, law firm.
Eventually Jaff's Crohn's disease worsened to the point that she was unable to work any longer. After she left her law office she helped other chronically ill with their legal struggles.
She founded the organization Advocacy for Patients With Chronic Illness, Inc. Since she wasn't well enough to go out to work, she commandeered her organization from her home helping the chronically ill get accommodations at school, Social Security disability benefits, and taking matters to court when necessary to champion their legal rights.
Advocacy for Patients With Chronic Illness offers free advocacy and advice to people struggling with the challenges that face the chronically ill. The organization assists more than 1500 people each year in such matters as educational equity, health and disability insurance, job discrimination, and Social Security issues.
Jaff wrote "Know Your Rights: A Handbook for Patients with Chronic Illness" to raise money for her nonprofit organization. The handbook delves into legal issues like insurance and Social Security. It also deals with other difficulties faced by the chronically ill, like shaky finances, and navigating an overwhelming medical system.
Jaff's handbook is in its fourth edition. She also wrote a book called "Friday Tired" about her life as a patient advocate and as a patient herself.
Jaff helped to write a "friend of the court" brief in National Federation of Independent Business et al vs. Sebelius. The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act in this case. Jaff supported a provision that prohibited insurers from discriminating against people who have preexisiting conditions.
Jaff believed that this was the most significant civil rights advance that has ever happened for people with chronic illnesses. She was convinced that there will never be equality until everyone has the right and ability to get health insurance.
Jennifer Jaff lost her decades-long battle with Crohn's disease on Sept. 14, 2012 in her home in Farmington, Connecticut.
She will be sorely missed. But her legacy after her death will carry on, continuing to support and defend the chronically ill she had championed throughout her life.
Jennifer Jaff dies at 55; advocate for the chronically ill. LATimes.com. Retrieved Oct. 3, 2012.
Jennifer Jaff, 55; lawyer became advocate for those who had debilitating illnesses. Articles.boston.com. Retrieved Oct. 3, 2012.
Heavy Heart. Advocacyforpatients.blogspot.ca. Retrieved Oct. 3, 2012.
About me. Blogger.com. Retrieved Oct. 3, 2012.
Jennifer Jaff, Advocate for Those with Chronic Illness, Dies of Crohn's Complications. ABAJournal.com. Retrieved Oct. 3, 2012.
Jennifer Jaff: A Tireless Advocate for Patient Rights. blog.AARP.org. Retrieved Oct. 3, 2012.
Our Executive Director. Advocacyforpatients.org. Retrieved Oct. 3, 2012.
Visit Jody's website and blog at http://www.ncubator.ca and http://ncubator.ca/blogger
By Jody Smith