Military families finally got their say before Congress about the injustice of losing autism benefits for their children when they retire, even when due to being wounded in action. More than 100 members of the military and their supporters jammed into a Capitol Hill briefing today to talk about the special difficulties military families face caring for children with autism.
Hosted by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Congressman John Larson of Connecticut, the briefing also provided military families an opportunity to explain how they lose autism benefits once they or their spouse leaves active duty because of the current operation of the military’s TRICARE insurance program. A bill now before Congress, the Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act (HR.2288), would right that wrong by assuring that members of the military, regardless of their duty status are covered
Stuart Spielman, senior policy advisor and counsel for Autism Speaks, said many of the challenges faced by military families “do not have simple solutions. There are good and bad school districts for special education. Moving from one place to another may mean going to the back of a waiting list for Medicaid or some other program. With access to behavioral treatments like applied behavior analysis, however, there is something we can do right now,” he said, in urging support for HR.2288.
Military members and their spouses at the briefing spoke of the difficulties they face accessing care and sufficient treatments for their children while on active duty, and their fears of losing all autism benefits when they retire.
Rachel Kenyon, the wife of a Connecticut Army Reserve platoon sergeant, related how her husband learned that their daughter had been diagnosed with autism while he was on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan.
“‘What does that mean?’ he said. ‘Please. Please tell me that she isn’t going to fall down the deep dark hole of autism.’ But I had no answers for him. I had no hope to offer.”
Jeremy Hilton, a Navy veteran whose wife serves in the Air Force, explained how frequent redeployments and being stationed in areas with few available providers frustrated their efforts to provide care for their daughter.
Karen Driscoll, the wife of a Marine Corps helicopter pilot with 27 years of service, questioned how members of the military can focus on their mission when worried about uncertain care for their children with autism back home. “Our family is in debt because of TRICARE limitations on ABA therapy,” she said. “We are struggling. And my husband is a Colonel.”
Geri Dawson, Ph.D., chief science officer for Autism Speaks, provided background about autism, the rapid rise in prevalence and the special challenges faced by military families. “Studies show that…families of children with autism experience high levels of stress. For military families, this is compounded by the stresses associated with their service. When one parent is on active duty, the other may be facing these responsibilities alone. When a parent returns from active duty, their families may have the additional challenges of a parent with service-related mental or physical health problems.”
Leading up the briefing, Autism Speaks reached out to the military community to submit their stories by video. You can watch these compelling stories below. In addition, many others posted their comments through Facebook or in reply to blogs.
“There is almost nothing more stressful than the combination of military life and a child with special needs,” said Melanie Pinto-Garcia.
Janice Allmann McGreevy, posted: “The government needs to understand that our heroes are not automatons. They are subject to emotions. They need to be supported, and that means knowing that their families are not fighting nonsensical battles here at home.”
You can help our brave members of the military. Ask your Member of Congress to support the Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act here. To learn more about military families and autism, visit the Autism Votes Military page here. Read more about this issue from the Huffington Post.