Prepared to remain in the military indefinitely, Lt. Col. Chuck May is determined to get his children the health care they need.
"I would stay in the Army well beyond 30 years if I knew I could have my family covered with TRICARE," said the officer in Fort Hood's Operational Test Command. "I don't care about pay raises, and I don't care about promotions."
May's sons, ages 11 and 14, have been diagnosed with forms of autism spectrum disorder. In the year before TRICARE covered any autism treatment, the May family spent $19,000 on therapy for just one of his sons.
Now TRICARE offers autism therapy through the Extended Care Health Option, but only active-duty service members are eligible to participate. If May retires, his sons lose the coverage.
"It's a really skewed system," said Stuart Spielman, senior policy adviser and counsel for the advocacy group Autism Speaks. "The people who've served the most, who are retiring after many years of service, or maybe retired because of war wounds, they won't have access to benefits."
But the coverage discrepancy would disappear if a new congressional bill became law. Sponsored by Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., and now in committee, the Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act would make autism treatment, called applied behavior analysis, available to retirees.
"We are mighty proud of our TRICARE system and to leave a gap in this system seems to be wrong," said Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, who is co-sponsoring the bill along with 54 other representatives. "That's not the kind of burden we should give. We should try to give effective health care to those families. They've earned it, and they're entitled to have it."