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Autism Speaks: ABA Plan For Military Families Is A Dud

May 24, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC (May 24, 2013) -- Autism Speaks today expressed disappointment with the terms of a one-year ABA pilot program for military families developed by the Department of Defense (DoD) through TRICARE and called on Pentagon leadership to take action.

In a report sent to Congress May 7, the DoD said it was limiting the pilot ABA autism program to non-active service members only as a companion to the existing TRICARE ECHO program for active duty members. There was no indication when the program will start. 

Late last year, Congress ordered the DoD to create the pilot program for "all TRICARE beneficiaries," but the DoD instead has limited the program to non-active duty members covered under TRICARE Basic. No insight was offered on dollar caps for treatment, coverage for prescribed levels of care, when the program will become available, or how military families or ABA providers will be advised of the services. 

"Military families need access to the care they have earned and deserve, yet TRICARE continues to restrict medically recommended treatment,” said Karen Driscoll, a Marine Corps spouse and Autism Speaks' associate director for federal government affairs and military relations. "TRICARE was created to provide a premier set of services to our military service members and their families because of their unique job requirements and the sacrifices made in service to our country. Yet when it comes to military children with disabilities, TRICARE’s policies consistently miss opportunities to address the medical needs of our kids. Leadership is needed to address the shortfalls in coverage of ABA care."

Autism Speaks, which has attempted to work with TRICARE in structuring the pilot program, discovered the report posted on a website. The pilot was originally supposed to start on April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, but was delayed due to budget issues, said TRICARE Director Jonathon Woodson in testimony last month before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Report to Congress is the first public release of information on the details of the autism pilot program.

In addition to the pilot program ordered by Congress, military families prevailed last summer in a federal class action lawsuit brought against TRICARE over access to ABA care. A U.S. District Court judge ordered the DoD to provide ABA as a medical benefit, but only 250 families were able to access the benefit last year, highlighting the need to improve TRICARE policy and provide the level of care military families require.