Senate Hearing on Medical Necessity of Autism Care for Military Families

Washington -- Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) held a hearing on June 21 to examine the Department of Defense's (DoD) classification that Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is not medically necessary in the treatment of autism. TRICARE, the DoD's health care program, insists that ABA is unproven. The American Academy of Pediatrics, other leaders in the medical community, and tens of thousands of military families disagree and are advocating for change.

At the hearing, Dr. Vera Tait, Associate Executive Director of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Dr. Geraldine Dawson, Chief Science Officer for Autism Speaks, both strongly asserted ABA as a critical medical treatment, citing decades of peer-reviewed scientific studies. Dr. Dawson concluded, "This is not a matter for further study. Action is needed to provide the quality of care our military families deserve and have earned."

Contrary to the DoD's position, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) recently concluded, "There is now sufficient evidence to categorize ABA as medical therapy." This was welcomed news for millions of federal employees and offered renewed hope for military families seeking the same. However, at the Senate hearing on Thursday, OPM Director of Healthcare and Insurance, John O'Brien, seemed to backpedal, stating that just because OPM classified ABA as "medical therapy" didn't mean that it was "medically necessary." It was a slap in the face to our military families as OPM seemed to be attempting to provide cover for the DoD. At a time when the White House and the First Lady's initiative, Joining Forces, have consistently opened their arms to military families, it is ironic that two executive branch agencies simultaneously deny our military children the prescribed medical treatments they need.

So why are thousands of military families still being denied ABA?

Because TRICARE is subscribing to outdated, unscientific reports from an online database to argue that ABA is not their responsibility. A United States District Court in Florida rejected the same ABA report that TRICARE relied upon (the Hayes Report), when it ordered Florida's Medicaid program to include ABA as a medical treatment for autism. This is not news to the Berges, a retired military family who filed a class action lawsuit in the United States District Court of D.C. on behalf of military families. Sadly, TRICARE and DoD would rather defend their practices in federal court than ensure military dependents receive the care they need.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who requested the hearing, urged the DoD to align with the current position of the medical community at large: "The fact that these therapies [ABA] actually work is the greatest hope that we have. So we shouldn't be denying them to any child, certainly not the child of a military family and certainly not the child of a wounded warrior."

Our families are proud to serve and endure the hardships required to ensure that our nation is protected. However, if military families are being denied the medically prescribed autism treatments their children need, we are failing them as a nation. At the hearing, Chairman Webb declared, "Ensuring that our uniformed personnel and their families receive first-rate healthcare is one of the critical elements in what I view as the military's moral contract with those who volunteer to serve our nation."

We absolutely agree.

Rachel Kenyon is an Army wife and mother of two beautiful children - one with autism. Her husband is an active duty Infantry Command Sergeant Major. You can find Rachel at and @MrsSGMKenyon on Twitter.

Jeremy Hilton is an Air Force Spouse and Military Spouse Magazine's 2012 Military Spouse of the Year. He advocates for military dependents impacted by disabilities: