Dear Sirs and Madams,
I’m writing to you today because the voting of “No” for adding CMKAA as an amendment to FY2013 NDAA is personal. It may not be personal to you, but it’s personal to my family.
We are an US Army National Guard family. My husband has served proudly and honorably for the last 21 years. Both of our sons are autistic. Both of them. You see, what keeps us up at night as parents is that my husband may be serving in an AGR status now that allows our family the greatly needed support of applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy, but it wasn’t that long ago that we were a M-Day family on Tricare Reserve Select with no supports. We also face the constant worry if my husband deploys again, will he be wounded? What if he doesn’t come home? Not only will our world be turned totally upside down, but our boys will be left without a therapy that they not only need, but would help them through that time.
You see, we have had two totally different experiences with our boys. Our older son was diagnosed with autism at age eight and a half. I won’t get into the details of why or how our medical system as a whole could be better, but know this, early intervention is very important. I cannot stress this enough. As this child is now starting to enter puberty, it’s a very explosive time in our household. Children on the spectrum often experience puberty differently than their neurotypical counterparts. Our ABA therapist is absolutely invaluable. He has been leading up to this point, and he will be beyond. Our son may have been late to the autism party, but without ABA therapy, we were honestly ready to send him to a boot camp for out of control children. My husband and I were at our wits’ end and had exhausted all other options. The therapy we were in at the time wasn’t working. We now know it was because it was the incorrect therapy. The behavioral cognitive therapy program we were prescribed at the time was different from the ABA approach. Children on the autism spectrum greatly benefit from ABA therapy, even if they miss out on early intervention services. Our older son is living proof of this. He went from a child who was so socially awkward that he was bullied every day in school starting in Kindergarten, to now having acquaintances at school that he plays games with at recess and talks with at lunch in the 5th grade. Our work still isn’t done as he grows and changes.
Our younger son, has benefited from our seven year long struggle with his older brother. Doctors identified that he needed early intervention at the age of three. The difference in the boys is drastically noticeable as a parent. Our younger son definitely proves that it is important that doctors are informed about autism, that it is identified early, and the child receives early intervention. It also proves that we need to invest in these children through these early intervention programs and ABA therapy.
Even though our boys have made much progress in the two years they’ve been in ABA therapy, I can’t help but wonder how much more progress they could make without the caps currently in place by Tricare. What if we had access to the level of care as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics instead of half of what they recommend? I also have to wonder how many of our military families we’re leaving behind with the current offering of ABA therapy to only active duty families. I’ve seen numbers at 23,000 children, but I wonder if that number isn’t higher. How many families aren’t being counted just because they know services aren’t available, so they don’t even bother to seek any?
What I find most disconcerting is that time and time again we military families are told how important we are. We’re told how important our support of our service member is. We’re told that we matter to the mission. I can tell you from experience that when measures like CMKAA got voted down, that we don’t feel we matter to the mission. I can tell you that I can’t support my husband if the kids aren’t getting the support they need. I can tell you that not having proper support for our special needs children has put more of a strain on our marriage than the Army, but the Army overlaps in all of this because of how hard we have to fight the healthcare system for every little thing these kids need. It’s all tied together. My husband has even apologized for being a soldier to me. Apologized for doing a job that he loves because he’s seen the struggles I’ve gone through to get the boys needed services among other things like safe post housing. This isn’t how it should happen.
The families more than ever need to see action. We’re tired of the rhetoric. We’re tired of the veterans in Congress who we would think have our backs, throwing us under the bus the hardest time and time again. It is by your actions, ladies and gentlemen of the Congress, that help to disconnect us from the other 99% of the civilian population. You must lead by example. Have integrity. Do the right thing, even when no one is looking. Show us we matter. No military family should be left behind.
Mrs. Amanda Griffiths
Wife to MAJ Christopher Griffiths, PARNG
Mother to 2 autistic Army children