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Outcry Grows Over Looming ABA Cuts for Military Kids

July 16, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC (July 16, 2013)  --  Military families from around the nation are raising their voices over policy changes proposed by TRICARE, the military health insurance plan, that would restrict their access to applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy for their children with autism. The changes, which would take effect July 25, have already drawn a protest from U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

"Military families deserve better," Karen Driscoll, Autism Speaks' associate director for federal government affairs and military relations, told Stars and Stripes. The article noted Autism Speaks' ongoing efforts with Congress and TRICARE to improve coverage for the nation's 23,000 military kids with autism.

"It's as if someone in Tricare who doesn't understand autism wrote this policy," Jeremy Hilton, a veteran and Air Force spouse whose daughter has autism, told Military.com.  The online news site said TRICARE's Facebook page "exploded" with questions from concerned parents and that customer service representatives were unable to answer or responded inaccurately to phone requests for information.

Under the proposed policy changes, parents would have to arrange standardized testing every 6 months for their children in order to continue receiving care, and demonstrate "measurable progress." Continued care after two years of therapy and after age 16 would require a waiver, and new discharge criteria would be put in place.

Kathryn Sneed, whose husband is stationed at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, called the requirement to have their three-year-old son with autism re-evaluated every six months "ridiculous." Sneed said she is concerned they will have to drive two hours to Atlanta to find the specialists required to perform the proposed testing.

At Fort Stewart, a U.S. Army installation also in Georgia, families whose children receive ABA therapy posed for a group picture and message that they represent "just a fraction" of the military families at risk of being impacted by the changes.

WVEC in Norfolk, VA reported on the controversy, and in Seattle, military spouse Dena Radcliffe raised concerns over how the changes would affect her three-old-son with autism in an interview with KING 5 News

The threat of losing her son's ABA coverage, she said, would feel  "like I’m losing the ability to connect, in a way, with my child.”