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Autism and Military Families

January 31, 2012

Military families have it tough. Families need to cope with frequent relocation, a primary caregiver who is absent for long stretches of time, and the burden of knowing that what feels normal now might not ever feel normal again. All children crave the kind of routine that can be all too easily disrupted by military service, but for kids with autism who depend on routine just to function, having a parent in the military is that much harder.

You would like to think that military families affected by autism don’t need to worry about health care. In fact, many servicemen and women initially signed up with the promise that their health care would be completely taken care of. My own father has said that he had an easier time “going the extra mile,” in his words, because he knew that he was ensuring excellent health care for his family. Military insurance (currently called TRICARE) has gone through a lot of changes since my father enlisted, and while the quality of health care is still generally good, copays and extra services have gotten complicated.

Particularly for families dealing with autism. When asked to describe the process of getting autism treatment through TRICARE, Rachel, a military wife and blogger over at StimCity responded: “It amounts to jumping through flaming rings of fire while blindfolded with your feet and hands bound with duct tape while your child with autism is left spinning in a corner and your husband dodges IEDs in Afghanistan. Do you want to hear more?”

Actually, TRICARE alone does not cover autism treatment. To get supplemental insurance you first need to enroll in two different programs, the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) and the Extended Care Health Option (ECHO). Unfortunately retired military personnel don’t qualify for ECHO, so Rachel’s husband, who has served for 24 years and been deployed overseas three times, can’t retire because it would mean losing treatment for their daughter. Josyln Gray at Strollerderby points out that this also excludes medically retired personel who leave the service after being injured in wartime.

Assuming you do qualify for ECHO, claims are limited to $36,000 a year. Gray does the math and notes, “that’s about enough to get your child 11-12 hours of applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy a week, far below the 25-40 hours a week recommended for children (especially younger children or the more profoundly affected) who need ABA. Also, the dollar cap includes not just things like autism services, but respite services and durable medical equipment. So if your kid needs a wheelchair, that’s going to take away from the autism services you can access.”

Today two Congressmen are sponsoring a military family briefing for members of Congress. The ultimate goal is to pass HR.2288, the Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act, which promises behavioral health treatment, including applied behavior analysis, for all military families affected by autism, including the retired ones. Military families have gone to DC, some to address Congress and others to help out backstage. We’ll keep you updated on the future of HR.2288. For more information, or to get involved, visit

Tagged with: Mental Health
Rachel Ehmke
Rachel Ehmke is a freelance writer and the former managing editor at the Child Mind Institute. She holds a BA … Read Bio