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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mrs. GILLIBRAND. Mr. President, I rise to speak on behalf of the approximately 20,000 military families with loved ones on the autism spectrum. Sadly, thousands of these Americans suffering from autism are not receiving the treatments that are the best practices that have been determined they need. These military families are receiving fewer services than their civilian government counterparts across the country, many of whom have been rightly aided by laws passed in over 60 percent of our States representing over 75 percent of the country's population.

Autism places tremendous strains on our Nation's military families and nonmilitary families--including tremendous health, financial, and emotional tolls. I wish to share briefly just a couple stories from our brave military families.

One veteran was severely wounded in Iraq while heroically serving our country. His injuries forced him to medically retire. Because he is retired, his autistic son Shane was no longer eligible to receive the ABA services he had previously received. The wait list for Medicaid waiver services is over 9 years. Shane's family had to sell their home to pay the roughly $5,000 per month of out-of-pocket expenses that the ABA treatments require that he so desperately needs. The money is running out for their family, and their family's effort is only to do what is best for their son. Without any relief, we risk allowing brave military families just like this one to fall through the cracks.

Another Active-Duty marine, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan three times, has maxed out his ABA care for therapy treatments to treat his 11-year-old autistic son Joshua. Joshua is nonverbal and his safety is a key concern, so Joshua is prescribed 35 hours of these ABA therapy treatments each week. Due to the severity of Joshua's symptoms, the family is faced with the nearly impossible decision of forgoing the recommended care for their son or paying the bills out of pocket as long as they are able to.

In my opinion--and it is shared by many families--this should never happen to any child, but it should also particularly not happen to the child of someone from our military service. That is why I am submitting an amendment requiring TRICARE to cover medically recommended autism treatments, including ABA therapy, in a manner that is consistent with best practices so our military families, our heroes, get the care they need for their children, children such as Shane and Joshua.

Every parent who has a child with autism faces challenges in ensuring that their child has access to the treatments they desperately need. For military families, these challenges are often compounded by frequent deployments overseas, frequent movements to different bases across State lines, and sometimes gaps in coverage.

Today, TRICARE coverage of ABA is severely limited. It is capped at $36,000 per year for an Active-Duty servicemember. This falls far below what is medically recommended. This care is limited to Active-Duty servicemembers only. Guard and Reserve families receive intermittent care, and children of retirees cannot get any coverage at all.

As a consequence, military servicemembers must often turn to State-run Medicaid programs to help their children, but these programs are often unavailable to a mobile military family because of the extensive wait lists. In Maryland, for example, the wait is 17 years long, essentially eliminating ABA coverage during the early development years when a child needs it most. The wait list in Virginia, for example, is over 10 years long.

Even more remarkable than TRICARE not covering these treatments is that the Office of Personnel Management has already determined that such treatments may be covered as medical therapies for Federal civilian employees. A recent court decision, which DOD is still reviewing and may appeal, determined that TRICARE must cover these treatments, but this decision is being applied under the most narrow definition in the interim, limiting the potential pool of providers. This amendment basically requires TRICARE to provide coverage and deliver services in a manner that is consistent with best practices. This would, thereby, improve access to care for our military families, and it would finally align TRICARE with the other types of coverage that is available in civilian sectors.

We have a duty to stand by our military families and to address this very difficult health issue that affects their children. When we ask our men and women to serve, we promise we will support them and their families. This amendment simply fulfills that promise.

I also rise to speak about another issue concerning the armed services authorization bill, and this is equally as serious and troublesome; that is, the issue of sexual violence.

While the vast majority of our servicemembers serve our country honorably and bravely and are simply the best our country has to offer, sexual violence in the military continues to occur at an alarming rate by a minority of servicemembers who should not be serving.

Despite Secretary Panetta's efforts to create a zero-tolerance policy in 2011, still more than 3,000 military sexual assaults were reported. But the DOD's estimates themselves indicate that number is much closer to 19,000 cases.

In the words of DOD:

[Sexual violence in the military] is an affront to the basic American values we defend, and may degrade military readiness, subvert strategic goodwill, and forever change the lives of victims and their families.

All our service branches have in place some version of a policy that sends convicted sex offenders to an administrative separation process for discharge. However, the most recent Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military shows that in fiscal year 2011, 36 percent of convicted sex offenders remained in the Armed Services, despite these policies.

If one-third of convicted sex offenders within the military are being retained, then clearly we must do better. Creating a uniform standard to correct deficiencies in the respective branch policies would be a good step forward.

Experts reviewing current policies have found that the Navy has established a mandatory policy that calls for administrative discharge of any personnel who are convicted of a sex offense.

My amendment would require the Department to oversee that each service branch establish policies that would mandate servicemembers convicted of a sex offense be processed for administrative separation. This means each such perpetrator would get due process but that the process would be required.

This amendment is common sense, and it is one that would strengthen the policies the services have actually already put in place and reinforce DOD's zero-tolerance policy.

I am very pleased Senators Collins and Snowe have joined me as cosponsors of this amendment, and I wish to thank them for their leadership.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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Mrs. GILLIBRAND. Mr. President, I rise to talk about an amendment that I believe is on an incredibly urgent matter.

Today the vast majority, almost all of our servicemembers, serve this country so honorably, so bravely. But there is a very small number who do not, who are engaging in sexual assault in the military. Despite Secretary Panetta's efforts to have a zero tolerance policy in this country, in 2011 alone there were 3,000 military assaults reported, and the Secretary of Defense reports the real number is much closer to 19,000 assaults. In the words of the DOD, sexual violence in the military ``is an affront to the basic American values we defend, and may degrade military readiness, subverts our strategic goodwill, and forever changes the lives of victims and their families.''

My amendment is very simple. Today each of the services have policies that address this issue, but the one that the Navy has is the best. My amendment requires the Department to oversee that each of the service branches has established a policy that would mandate that servicemembers convicted of sexual offenses will be processed for administrative separation.

The reason this is so important is because one-third of convicted sexual offenders in the military are still retained. They are still serving. So, obviously, we must do better. We need a uniform standard to correct these deficiencies in the respective branch policies to be able to serve our military families and our military members as we should.

I yield the floor.

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