Supporting the War Fighter

It seems like yesterday that I retired from the Navy after 23 years of service to our country. Wow does time fly when you are serving in the Armed Forces. I served as both line officer in the Air Force and then as a chaplain to the Navy and Marine Corps. I served in numerous operations such as Just Cause, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and the tsunami relief effort of 2004 in Thailand.

The one constant in my life: I never had to worry about what was going at the home front. I did not have ailing parents, or a wife with a severe illness or a child who required constant care. Having served as a chaplain in the second half of my military career, I saw firsthand the stress and strain of being far from home when your loved one needs you. That's why the military provides health care for our military families: so service members can protect our home and perform dangerous duties knowing that our loved ones are being cared for at home.

I recall an incident while I served in the Navy. It was late at night and we were steaming towards the Persian Gulf when a message from the Red Cross informed us that one of our crew had an emergency at home. His four-year-old daughter had reached for the handle of a pot of boiling water that was on the stove and pulled it emptying its contents onto her head resulting in very severe burns to her head, shoulders and arms. It would take four days before we could fly our shipmate off the ship to begin his trek home. In the meantime, the captain of the ship removed him from flight deck operations because he would be too distracted to perform the dangerous duties required of aircrew.

Such events happen from time to time in the course of serving our nation. Service members with loved ones with chronic illnesses are dependent upon the military health care insurance company called Tricare for treatments and therapies only found in the civilian sector. However, it has become an increasing practice for Tricare to deny military families benefits, leaving many in a precarious position. One such family is the Samuels family of Fort Worth, Tex.

Captain Mark and Jennifer Samuels live Keller, Tex., a small bedroom community located a short drive north of Fort Worth. Captain Samuels is an F-18 fighter pilot and commands a Reserve Center in Fort Worth. His is a position of great responsibility: he trains hundreds of reservists who drill and operate aircraft on the base in Fort Worth. He is a Naval Academy graduate and has given the Navy and his country the best years of his life defending freedom. However, the health system that he and thousands of other service members and retirees rely upon for health care services has failed him and especially his 16-year-old daughter Kaitlyn.

Kaitlyn was born with cerebral palsy and severe scoliosis of her spine. The curve of her spine is so pronounced that without physical therapy, her backbone will collapse upon her organs and result in suffocation and death. Mark and Jennifer tried many traditional forms of therapy that don't work. What has proven effective for Kaitlyn is Equine Assisted Physical Therapy.

Using horses for physical therapy is nothing new. For hundreds of years, warriors of old used horses to heal from their wounds. Today, 15-20,000 Wounded Warriors and military families across the country use horses as a dynamic tool in their physical therapy.

The problem for Captain Samuels is that even after a judge ordered the government to pay for this service, the government refused to pay, forcing the Samuels family to have to pay out of pocket for therapy services. To add insult, the government demanded Captain Samuels pay back a year worth of therapy in one lump sum. Concerns about the costs of such therapy are misplaced (this is already covered under the law) and add further insult to those who give up a private option for the public good, only to have us turn our backs on them later.

The law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld took the case pro bono because it is the right thing to do. Congressman Burgess and six others have proposed legislation called "Kaitlyn's Law," which will clarify that all physical therapy is covered under the law despite the tool used. The bill upholds a promise made to our military who have no other option for health care than what the government provides for them. I applaud Aiken Gump's efforts and encourage readers to call their congressional representatives to ask for their support of this legislation.

In the meantime, Captain Samuels continues to serve his country. If called upon, he will fly and lead combat missions -- all while the future of his daughter lay in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. Something is very wrong about this situation. Where is the support? Where is the justice? I pray to God that our nation's leaders will have the backbone to support Kaitlyn's Law. As Americans who value freedom and those who defend it, I ask each of you to call your representatives and let your voice be heard to support this law It's simply the right thing to do.