[Ed note: This was originally posted on March 21, 2011. I think it fitting to share again since the introduction of H.R. 2288 – Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act (CMKAA). This legislation would make autism therapies a part of TRICARE Standard, and therefore available to dependents of retirees.]
[Workin’ for a Livin’ by Huey Lewis and the News]
How do you look a battle-weary soldier in the eyes and say:
I know you are exhausted, My Love. I know it has been a long road through hell and back again –
More than once.
Yes. 25 years IS a long time.
But you cannot retire just yet, My Love.
Yes. You will have to deploy again – go through hell – again.
I’m sorry, My Love.
On the topic of our healthcare crisis in this country, there are so many arguments to be heard. So much talk about the costs; the political drama of partisan strategies and taxes, who should pay what and how should that money be spent.
When I think of the healthcare crisis in this country, so many faces come to mind.
I see the troubled face of a retired nurse of more than 50 years service in the healthcare industry. I have listened as she shared her experience in a rehab home recovering from a broken leg. “Nursing isn’t what it used to be.”
I see the tear-soaked face of a mother who has sat in a clinic waiting room for more than 2 hours with her screaming infant. With no place else to go, she prays her name is called before she has to leave because she cannot miss another shift at work.
I see the embarrassment on the leathery face of a day-laborer asking the pharmacist for just a few pills of his monthly medication, because that is all he can afford.
I see my daughter’s chubby-cheeked smile. I am terrified.
Do you see their faces?
Do you see your own? Or that of your child?
And there are so many more to see. Folks who have beaten cancer, and those who have not. The unemployed ‘wealthy’ who find themselves homeless because cancer was the last thing they could afford. The working poor in this country that are served eviction notices because a week of the flu cost them so much more than a bottle of aspirin.
I also see the face of a brave and selfless soldier.
Whether the face of a Wounded Warrior who cannot get the care he or she requires and deserves, or a father of two who has served his country for 25 years and cannot secure his own family’s future healthcare. It IS a crisis.
1 in 88 active duty military dependent children live with autism.
Only 10% of those children are receiving the autism therapies and care they require.
Though not an easy task, all active duty dependents are eligible to apply for autism benefits through the military’s TRICARE insurance and ECHO program, and therefore could theoretically obtain it. The access is sketchy at best for many of these families. With changes of duty station, cycling deployments, and inconsistent providers, even the most diligent parents fail to get what their child with autism so desperately needs.
Now hear this – the moment the child’s soldier retires – that’s it. Done.
No more ECHO. No more autism coverage.
Retirees – WHO HAVE SERVED OUR COUNTRY FOR 20 YEARS – are not eligible to access the autism therapies that TRICARE provides active duty dependents.
My husband is 43.
Our daughter is 4.
We are ONE YEAR into her autism diagnosis. My brave and mighty soldier is burdened with the weight of knowing that he must choose insurance coverage his baby girl needs over retirement he so richly deserves.
25 years of service.
Countless medals and citations.
It isn’t just autism, either.
The ECHO special needs coverage program is what we have relied on so many times throughout RM’s first years with 4q deletion syndrome. It covers durable medical equipment, respite care, supplies, formulas, and home nursing care.
THE MOMENT A SOLDIER WITH A SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD RETIRES – ALL OF THE ADDITIONAL BENEFITS ARE GONE.
Let’s do some math and then I’ll let you go.
Most career, active duty military members joined when they were just babies themselves, between 18 and 21 years old. Let’s say a soldier joins at 18 and has a child when he is 25. That child is diagnosed with autism at 3 years old when the soldier is 28. The soldier is eligible (and often forced) to retire at 38, when his child is 13. That’s it. No more autism coverage.
Did I mention that this soldier retired at the rank of an E-6 Staff Sergeant and earns a retirement check of just $1,815. per month before taxes???
I love you, Honey. I know you are tired.
If you haven’t done so, please support the Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act – HERE.
We cannot change the world without first being the change we seek.