A federal judge has now frustrated military families that earlier won insurance coverage for a certain kind of autism therapy.
In a rare reversal, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton second-guessed his own previous order that the military’s health program pay for the autism therapy sought by a Florida couple and others. For retired Air Force Master Sgt. Kenneth Berge and his wife, Dawn, of Crestview in the Florida panhandle, the new decision could complicate long-term efforts to help their son, Zachary.
Walton’s legal about-face also could affect, at least temporarily, many others who want the TRICARE military health program to pay for the therapy, called “applied behavior analysis.” Ruling in a class-action lawsuit in July 2012, Walton ordered Pentagon officials to cover the therapy under the health program’s basic plan.
This week, Walton concluded he erred and would now give federal officials a second chance to justify their policy or change it.
“Judges must have the integrity to acknowledge and accept their mistakes if justice, rather than pride, is the controlling factor in our sometimes failed efforts to adhere to the rule of law,” Walton wrote for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Walton’s reversal will not immediately cut off benefits. Defense Department officials have promised to continue covering the therapy under the TRICARE basic program, as he originally ordered, until the issue has been re-examined and all legal appeals have ended.
In his 21-page decision issued late Wednesday stopping his prior order. Walton sided with Justice Department officials who had sought reconsideration of the earlier order. He sent the “applied behavior analysis” issue back for further evaluation and also took away the class-action certification he had granted earlier.