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News : Local Dec 4, 2012 - 7:35:29 AM

Blumental and Larson praise passage of amendment extending autism care to military families

By Elizabeth Benton

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Washington, DC – The U.S. Senate passed an amendment Thursday co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), to extend behavioral treatment for military children with autism spectrum disorders and other disabilities. Authored in the House by Congressman John B. Larson (CT-01), the “Caring For Military Kids With Autism Act” was adopted as an amendment to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and passed by the Senate Thursday night. The House of Representatives passed the amendment in that chamber’s version of the NDAA last spring.

The legislation was inspired by Rachel and Command Seargent Major William Kenyon of Manchester. The military health insurance program, TRICARE, does not currently adequately cover Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) under basic entitlements, a recommended treatment for autistic individuals. The parents of a child with autism, Rachel and Command Seargent Major Kenyon attended a meeting with Congressman Larson in West Hartford in 2011 where they first brought the problem to the Congressman’s attention.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to these brave families who have made tremendous sacrifices in service to our country. These heroic families should never be forced to bear the additional financial, emotional and physical burden of choosing between critical behavioral treatments for their children or other vital family expenses,” said Blumenthal.

“The Passage of this amendment is the next step in getting the Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act to become law and is a tremendous victory for all of our military families, especially Rachel and Command Sergeant Major William Kenyon,” Larson said. “It is the tireless advocacy of individuals like the Kenyons and Shannon Knall who have shown us once again that some of the best ideas originate outside of Washington by passionate citizens. I want to thank Senators Lieberman, Blumenthal and Gillibrand for helping carry this legislation through the Senate.”

The Extended Care Health Option (ECHO), available only to active duty personnel, does cover the therapy but caps coverage at $36,000 a year. The cap is only enough to cover 6 to 11 hours of therapy a week, well below the medically recommended treatment level. The amendment would lift the cap and require TRICARE to cover behavioral treatment for developmental disabilities, including autism. The amendment also provides access to critical care for 23,000 military children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and other disabilities and more than 100 Connecticut families who without adequate coverage have been forced to pay out of pocket for necessary medical expenses or forgo care altogether.

In 2010 Connecticut implemented legislation that mandated that insurers cover the cost of diagnosis and treatment of autism. However, that legislation did not assist Connecticut military families covered under TRICARE.

“We know that early intervention leads to the most successful future for a child with autism, and every child deserves an opportunity to be successful. Allowing a child with autism access to evidence-based medical treatment allows for a brighter future for that child, and every child deserves that,” said Shannon Knall, Connecticut Advocacy Chair for Autism Speaks.

Command Sergeant Major William Kenyon was serving his second tour in Afghanistan when his now six-year-old daughter was diagnosed with autism. With 26 years of active duty in the CTARNG 102nd Infantry, Kenyon and his wife Rachel continue to balance their service to this country with the needs of their daughter. But despite evidence-based knowledge that early behavioral treatment intervention can positively impact the lives of children with autism, the Kenyon’s TRICARE coverage was of little assistance.

“For decades, military families have experienced the same rise in autism prevalence as the civilian population. In recent years, we have watched as 42 states have moved toward insurance reform and now the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program has 67 plans in 22 states that are offering appropriate autism treatments as recognized by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other leading health organizations around the world. The military family falls farther behind while TRICARE refuses to incorporate these proven standards of care for the military child with autism. Thousands of military families will now anxiously await the implementation of this critical legislation so that their dependents with autism can finally receive the best practice care they are entitled to by their very own service to our country,” stated Rachel Kenyon.

The bipartisan amendment was introduced under the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bill. The amendment was introduced in the Senate by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and was also co-sponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

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