ABA Therapy Expanded for Military Families

Recently, a federal judge issued a ruling in a class action lawsuit which will have a significant impact on military families with special needs. The judge ruled the Department of Defense (DoD) must provide Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for not only active duty service members and their families, but also families of retirees.

Judge Reggie Walton ruled DoD and TRICARE, acted unfairly in denying ABA therapy to military dependents with autism. Walton found that the DoD's policy of providing ABA coverage for active duty members through the Extended Health Care Options (ECHO) program while denying it to retirees using the TRICARE Basic program was "obviously contradictory" because both programs are governed by the same “reliable evidence” standard. The ruling was issued in the case of Kenneth Berge vs. the United States of America and concluded military families' three-year battle with the DoD and TRICARE.

TRICARE currently offers ABA therapy under the ECHO program to active duty service members. Once a military family retires or is no longer on active duty, the ECHO benefit is not provided.

It is unclear whether DoD will appeal the court’s decision. DoD has not responded to the ruling. The National Military Family Association has contacted the TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) and will provide updates as we receive them. This ruling may change the current ECHO program as well as future benefits provided to retirees. Will the ECHO benefit continue to be available to special needs families, regardless of the diagnosis? Will other benefits provided to active duty families be extended to families of retirees? TMA and DoD will need to analyze the ruling and provide a timely response. Families should wait for further information before committing to any new or additional ABA therapy.

"This ruling is a huge victory for military families affected by autism," said Karen Driscoll, Autism Speaks' associate director of federal government affairs and military relations and a Marine Corps spouse. "The United States government has finally taken a step toward providing all men and women who have served our country with the health care Americans expect them to have."

The ruling is expected to benefit 23,000 military children with autism spectrum disorder. Our Association remains committed to supporting all special needs military families. If you are a military family with a special needs family member, we want to know how this will affect your family.

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