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Katie Wright: Why I Love the Department of Defense

Dod By Katie Wright

No, I am not involved in the military, I do not have a family member serving in the military, and in all honestly the Department of Defense rarely crossed my mind. The only time I feel “militaristic” is when I have had enough of idiotic comments from certain people at NIH and I daydream about marching into their offices, grabbing a few people by the lapels and telling them to stop wasting our time and money and fund some innovative science for a change.

However I want all autism families to know that the leaders of Department of Defense’s autism research program really get it. They are our allies in the fight for our children, rather than just another obstacle. The DOD strongly believes in stakeholder involvement.

The DoD actually WANTS parents’ opinion regarding their research choices. They INVITE a diverse body of Moms and Dads in sit on their grant committee panels. The DoD ENCOURAGES parents to fully participate in all scientific, clinical and treatment discussions. DoD EMPOWERS each stakeholder as a fully voting members of grant committees. The DoD ASKS families what they think of their previous research work and how they can better respond to the needs of people living with autism NOW.

OK does that blow your mind or what? I had to see this to believe it but after participating in one of the DoD’s annual grants review committee, I can promise you that this is all true.

While we have to battle with other governmental agencies and some autism organizations for minimal stakeholder involvement, the DoD welcomes our opinions. While IACC appoints a bizarre collection of psychiatrists, friends or random ASD parents representing no constituency, as public members, the DoD invites people from all major autism organizations to participate. There is none of staleness or groupthink that emerges when the same people sit on a research committee for years and years on end. Non-scientist parents comprise at least 20% of each grants reviewing committee! People rotate every two years in order to ensure the representation of diverse points of view!

I want to thank the DoD for taking a chance on working closely with stakeholders. All other agencies and federal autism research committees should stop what they are doing right now (Dr Cindy Lawler), call at the DoD and ask how to implement this autism research program.

The continuation of the DoD’s autism research committee depends on families making our support of this program known to our Congresspeople and Senators. Please take a moment and let your representatives know how you feel about the inclusive and innovative government funded autism research program.

Katie Wright is Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.


Alan Cartwright

Katie Pardon me for not sharing your optimism about DoD on autism. Are you aware TRICARE doesn't cover the most effective and scientifically proven autism therapy, Applied Behavioral Analysis ABA), in the basic TRICARE benefit? Are you aware ABA is only covered in the ECHO program which limits the amount covered in ABA therapy per month for active duty and TOTALLY EXCLUDES THE CHILDREN OF MILITARY RETIREES? Are you aware that for five or more years, TRICARE has been calling ABA an "educational modality" or "special education" in order to avoid having to cover ABA in the basic TRICARE benefit? Are you aware, TRICARE recently reversed its position on calling ABA an "educational modality" or "special education" in light of the lawsuit that forced them to retreat from this indefensible position? Are you aware, TRICARE now says ABA is not proven to be effective? How does that make all active duty military feel whose children have been receiving ABA therapy - that TRICARE now says that therapy hasn't been proven effective. Thanks but no thanks on being happy with DoD.


I can understand your optimism, given the other type of agencies you have worked with in the past. If I might offer a suggestion:

The "Vision" of this unit is to "Improve the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder now".

It is my opinion (reviewing their website), that this research organization has possibly moved away from this vision statement. You (and others) now have a chance to hold DoD accountable to that vision. I hope you have lots of success!


You cannot be nice to these people!

We have tried this and it don't work!

It sounds like that my children's peds must have attended all AAP meetings cause they mimic these guys to a TTTTTT TEA!

Except my children's peds were on the front lines, watching close up and personal, the bugs at eye lever (so to speak). They weren't up high somewhere on the totum pole like these guys who have to squint to see US ground crawling bugs (autism kids and parents). Nope my kid's peds were at ground level, watching the suffering and could care less. I had to twist their arms to get them to send us to a neurologist - my son having absentee seizures, myclonic jerks, and they were willing to allow him to have no treatment for years!!!! Who did they choose to send my son to - what neurologists did they continue to send my son too - their college buddy that was willing to help keep it all hidden. "Good o'le boys" nine years of this crap. Time does not bring them around. Being nice for a long time does not bring them around.

They told me when my son was less than a year old not to worry it is febrile seizures ( Do febrile seizures show up on an EEG as he falls asleep without a fever?) and they told me that 75 percent of the cases of febrile seizures they will outgrow them. I stayed with these peds for 18 years between both of my kids. My son was 14 years old, (oh I went other places- other doctors too during that time; with no luck because I was too confuse to figure out what to say, or what was needed; so it did little good). Besides I felt forced to stay with the lying SOBs because I needed antibiotics for sinus infections/constant pneumonia - as was said here many times - our kids are multi - system sick.

These were always uneasy doctor visits. They were uncomfortable and I sit and stared at them. I never said anything mean, or snotty, besides I could hardly get a word in edge wise anyway. So, I started writing them letters and mailing it to them. They found time for that!

They knew so much more they were not saying. One ped asked me one day "Where I thought Kawasaki's came from for my daughter?" Welllll 14 years to get that much out of him. Geee whizzz I was so dumb, so focused on my son I did not have it figured out!

What they took from me were the potential of my kids. That is all I should complain about buttttt still --- there are smaller things they took from me too that I suppose makes me an even smaller persom for even thinking along these lines but: ---they also took my trust in justice, trust in the American way, trust in my government, and trust in myself (I may have a masters degree from Eastern Kentucy Univeristy, but they must have just felt sorry for me and just gave that degree ) - because I am so foolish.

You can not be nice to these people! You can not be even civil! They just take it as they can run over you, that you are so foolish that they can lie to you, and they will.


Lisa, if your son is Q-coded, they can deploy, but not reassign without going through a med board for your son. The recieving location must be able to provide every treatment your son currently is getting. You may contact me for more info but I would rather not publish my email here.

DoD also has a discriminatory program for providing ABA services. Retirees get none. Active duty must qualify once a year. And the program is reviewed annually so the DoD can revise the dollar amount whenever they like and cut our hours. We only get 10 a week as it is, which I understand is better than zero, but it's hard to keep up when they keep changing the rules. I have even sought a hard copy of ECHO and Autism Demo Policy and they said there was no such thing.


I am in the military and my 5 year old son has autism. The best thing that has helped us on our journey is the coverage from Tricare, our health benefits. It does pay for biomed and speech and occupational therapies, where other insurances don't.

However, we have never had the support from military for helping my son get better. I have never been asked to fill out a survey or asked to sit on a board. We have ECHO coverage but there is so much red tape we have not accessed anything it "provides". My husband's location assignment officer thinks that autism is not really treatable and we always plead to stay in our current place so my son can continue to receive services. He's about to send my husband overseas as a next move, and that would split our family and he would go alone (like other military autism families have chosen to do) because there are such minimal services in remote locations.

I could go on, but I think you can understand how frustrating and stressful it all is. Please don't generalize the military/DOD experiences. In the military there tends to be a lot of meetings and though the agenda sounds good often the affected don't receive any benefit (familiar story for us all...)

Anne McElroy Dachel

Katie, maybe the big reason our DoD is doing more about autism than the federal health agencies is because they know that to win a war you actually have to take on the enemy. The IACC doesn't even see any real problem. They certainly don't have any plan to actually do something about autism. Maybe we should take the autism issue away from groups like the NIEHS, NIH, CDC, AAP, close down the IACC (like anyone would even notice), and turn the autism emergency over to the military. Just a suggestion.

Anne Dachel, Media

Katie Wright

I respect and defer to the comments made by military families regarding access to ASD services and insurance re-imbursment. I cannot even imagine how difficult it would be to have an autistic child while serving in the military. I agree that good research is no substitute for actual help.

I am frequently accuses of being hypercritical of the NIH and other autism organizations. I am sure that is true but that doesn't mean I'm wrong. I thought it was important to acknowledge a rare instance in which a sincere effort is made towards fully including a diverse body of stakeholders in the grant making process. I wish all autism federal research bodies operated with the level of respect for stakeholders as the DoD.


Thanks, Katie. I am a veteran and active duty Air Force military spouse who also has two teenagers with severe autism. Through some tough choices, luck, and support from my husband's senior officers, I have been able to stay in one place for over 10 years (not typical). During that time I have been an advocate and non-profit board member and worked with both military and civilian clients and "systems." While the military and DoD have many areas to improve upon, I have yet to meet a civilian family getting better services than currently provided by military insurance. Even with some private insurers now covering ABA, TriCare still covers more biomedical treatments and tests than most. Of course I tend to not bring these issues up when I'm fighting within DoD to improve services, because as stated, we still have a long way to go.

It is important to note that the reason coverage is better is because military members and their spouses fought and won to get those services. It happened because, believe it or not, the military is filled with real people who get promoted and make higher rank because they genuinely care about military members and their families. The leadership of the Marine Corps (and their spouses) are an excellent example of this culture. Trust me, we still have plenty to complain about (as you've seen in the comments), but the bottom line is, like you have experienced with the research group, we have a voice and for the most part, the establishment listens. Acting is not as swift or thorough as it could be, but we can see progress. Progress comes through legislation as well, and I can tell you military spouses can put any high paid lobbyist to shame. The autism community should take a hard look at what the military has accomplished and work to build stronger overall public policy using the same methods. Which I think is the point of your wonderful post. Thanks again--


Lest we Forget...

David Kirby wrote an article about the collaboration between the DOD and the CDC. Here is the quote: "a collaborative program between the CDC and the Department of Defense says that multiple vaccines may not be safe for everyone (at least in adults being inoculated for military service).

We have preliminary findings from one of our many on-going research studies that suggest a relationship between adverse events and multiple vaccinations exist. These findings will require validation, but heighten our concern for the current clinical practice of multiple vaccinations."

What ever became of that line of thinking? I'd like to see research to evaluate the outcomes of multiple vaccines given at the same time vs single vaccines and what about vaccinated vs unvaccinated???

I'm not ready to give my trust to the government agencies who slyly avoid the obvious scientific questions, yet pretend they are interested in our concerns in a stakeholder meeting. Sorry, but I think it smells rotten.

Angela Warner

Let's not pat the DoD on the back too soon. As the parent of 2 children recovering from autism, and a military spouse, I know a fair amount about how the DoD operates when it comes to all things regarding autism and the DoD. The panel requires you to not only provide input on possible autism studies, but that of things like breast cancer, testicular cancer, and the list goes on and on. I was perwsonally invited by the then Director of the autism research program to participate on the panel 2 years ago and gioven the depth of what I would have been biting off, I could not commit; yes, that may surprise some of you. I know my limits.

I spoke with the new director about a year ago, and believe me, while DoD may be funding some research, many other federal organizations contribute to this as well. The research being done leaves a lot to be desired.

DoD has just as much red tape as any other organization such as the AAP, CDC, NIH, etc., and possibly much more. The ability of families to access the basic necessities and recommended treatments for children with autism should be a red flag to anyone who wants to pat the DoD on the back. I've written about the red tape many times here on AoA, and that red tape is exactly why military families have brought a lawsuit against the DoD.

This program has been aournd for several years and has not produced any real results or benefits for our kids. Not to mention, the rate of autism is undoubtably higher in the military population than in the civilian community.

I must digress before I really get on my box and write an article for a comment.

Angela Warner


I can see how in one area the DOD may be doing well in the autism research arena. But when the only child in our immediate family with ASD ( I have a second cousin who is Autism/Fragile X dual diagnosed, carrier is not a blood relative) is the only child whose maternal and paternal grandfathers served in military conflicts (vietnam and gulf war), and whose father is the only one in the military (anthrax and smallpox vaccines, etc.), you can see where the military medical establishment is a source of suspicion. And now every time we go to see the military doc they point out how my son's past due on his "4 yr old" vaccines, despite the fact that the recommended window is ages 4-6, and he won't really be past due until after age 6.

Also, the Air Force special needs program was found to be out of compliance on several key issues. But to the military's credit, the parent initiated IG investigation was well handled and timely.


I know that some people here have mentioned the massive amounts of vaccines that our military personnel get...it is appalling. Some go on 3 tours in 3 years and get 11 vaccines every time they leave. And these are not vaccines that are on the "childhood" schedule, so nothing has been "taken out." The suicide rate and illness rate of our veterans is appalling. Hypervaccination is certainly to blame for a part of this.
DoD has a website with vaccines, at one time the DTaP page listed autism as a side effect. AoA (or a commenter, I can't remember what happened) linked to the page publicly and DoD immediately pulled it down. I'm not so sure I trust that they are doing anything to help us. But I certainly hope you are right, Katie!!!


We are a military family and some of our best doctors have been military doctors. We are also extremely grateful for the insurance, however, it can be confusing. We are in the ECHO program also and we've realized that even the people who work in the ECHO department don't know how it works! I would be really interested to know how to get biomedical treatments paid for. We were told we can see a DAN doctor just as soon as we find one that is on our list of network providers. None of them are, last time I checked. I'd also be interested to know how to be one one of these panels.

Eunice Carlson

Before you go loving the DOD check out the vaccines they pump into our military sons and daughters. These vaccines need not be approved for human use and informed consent is not even a consideration. And if that were not enough consider DOD human experimentation using such as LSD and fallout during nuclear bomb testing. You can't quantatize suffering and that caused by the DOD feels just the same as that caused by vaccine injury to our children. No point in glorifying one governmental agency to point out the tragic shortcomings of another.


"I want to thank the DoD for taking a chance on working closely with stakeholders."

Count me a little skeptical. Who are the real "stakeholders" in the military industrial complex? The people? The ruling elites? The multinational corporate interests?

Studying "causes" and designing "treatments" for autism and "cancers" is only a hairbreadth or nuanced definition away from designing and field-testing bioweapons.

Soooo, sometimes when something sounds too good to be true, it's because it isn't true. Is there an ulterior motive here? We've ALL been fooled by pharma before! Their track record does not exactly inspire confidence in them. They have never earned our trust.

Debbie Voss

I agree with Doodle's comment, but I read "Vaccine A". I just don't trust em'.

KFuller Yuba City, Ca.

How much power does the DoD have? Are they on equal footing with the powerful NIH,FDA and CDC? Will they start to lose funding because they will be seen as dallying with the enemy?
I want to believe that just as our military places itself on the front lines and defends all Americans, that they are putting themselves between us and the above named agencies and will be able to do the research and defend and protect the future of the worlds children.
The least that may come from this is the ending of the mass over vaccination of our military personnel. Thank you Katie for your willingness to participate in such a meaningful way.


Thank you Katie. We're a Navy family and surprised at our Tricare insurance coverage once the autism "kicked in" around 2002. Our son has made tremendous progress with the biomedical treatments that are covered.

I feel bad for families who have to move every 2-4 years or live in the middle of no where and can't find proper ABA, Speech, OT or PT. In general, the military life is HORRIBLE for a child with autism. Medical research is a good step and I'm happy to hear they encourage input from parents. But, I hope it's just one of many steps towards giving these families the support they need.

Tara McMillan

I don't get it, if the DOD is so wlling to hear us, why do the military doctors refuse to treat our Autistic son, or even look out for vaccine reactions on other kids?

It doesn't seem to me like they are so willing, and I am a military wife.


Our family is recipient of tricare's ECHO program and although it is not perfect let me tell you it is by far much better than any state aid would be willing to give. One poster pointed out that the ABA services given are only half of what is recommended, well we are going in the right direction. You should try talking to parents who have been on med waiver waiting lists for 10+ years trying to get ANY services. The DOD is ahead of the game when it comes to this. Our daughter has benefited so much from these programs and I am grateful they are there.

Kim Davis

In all honesty, I was bracing myself for a barage of sarcasm. Instead I sit here amazed.

If the DOD has made this leap, is it naive to hope that the tide is turning? Hope. It's the thing that keeps autism parents going.


I understand that the typical Gulf War soldier was given nearly 800 micrograms of mercury with his anthrax and botulism vaccines...

and of course, they could not seem to locate the cause of "gulf war syndrome" or could not determine if it is real...where have we seen that before ?

No follow up on the health of these soldiers was allowed by pharma. What is the current status of that wonderful medical experiment ???


The DOD understands that a large percentage of the future defenders of the country are going to be disabled. It directly affects them, unlike the lap dogs of Pharma and Big Oil in our wonderful government. That's not to say the DOD is very efficient at solving the problem, but at least they are trying.

Katie Wright



These 2 sites will link you to your representatives. For many, many reasons it is always good to form a relationship with these offices. They like to hear when Congressionally mandated $ is actually spent WELL and with stakeholder participation.

I am not an expert on military benefits for ASD families at all. Sorry if I implied that. I completely defer to military families and their opinions/ experiences on the subject.

I will find out how to apply to serve on the DoD autism panel. I was nominated by the NAA and believe that is the first step- being nominated by a group or organization, particularly of a neglected constituency. I am an NAA member but most importantly the parent of a severely affected, nonverbal, vaccine injured child. You don't find a lot of parents like us on govt panels.


Maybe parents can sit on these panels at the DoD level (although we've never heard anything about this and we are a military family), but at the 'boots on the ground' level the military are not very good.
Sure, Tricare covers a certain amount of ABA (roughly half of what the AAP recommendation), but, their pediatricians are so ill-informed, obstructive and unhelpful that they actually do harm. We had to opt-out of the main insurance system to a co-pay system, just so that we don't have to deal with them.
Then, because of the lack of military doctors that 'can' diagnose autism, most people are referred out to civilian providers, but, when the diagnosis comes back, they don't call the families in and explain how they access their recommended therapy, since it's a double process of enrollment into 2 separate programs. In fact, most of them don't know themselves. Many families have no idea they can even get ABA therapy.

The military medical and assignment process has been criticized by their own leadership for failing to even do what's in their manual when it comes to assigning members to bases. Many families were assigned to locations at which there were no services for their children, or, like we experienced last year, they deny an assignment to an area that can support us (we won that argument).
But, when you're 3 weeks from being homeless and your husband assignment-less (since you're at a 1 yr educational assignment and you HAVE to leave the base) and the medical officer at the base you're supposed to be going to is not concerned enough to even call you back, oh, and you have a child with autism into the mix, from my standpoint, they have a lot of work to do.
Whilst I appreciate the gesture of the military allowing parents to have input on research, they would be better off actually educating their pediatricians and support staff and helping their families cope.


Thanks for the vote of confidence with respect to DoD research Katie. It would be nice to have information on just how our military families dealing with autism can become part of theses grant committee panels.


Now that DoD has figured out to follow "Congressionally mandated" autism research, maybe they will find a way to provide appropriate support to the military families already impacted by autism. Feel free to read the 2008 NDAA Sec 587. This was Congressionally mandated as well. Why hasn't it been implemented? Because of the price tag and because Congress isn't doing its due diligence on oversight. Don't drink the Kool-aid too fast Katie. DoD does some things very well...other things very poorly.


Katie - Thank you very much for this info. It's very important. Are the folks at DoD willing to be named/quoted? (I know it's problematic). What do you think is the best way to effectively leverage their approach when speaking to another agency? I fear that without concrete data or examples one risks the status quo of encountering fingers in the ears saying "la la la" when delivering "the ask".

Deb in IL

Let's start our own "War on Drugs"!


Think they'd support a vaccinated vs. never-vaccinated study?


Ok now ..wait...what? Are you sure? Katie do you have a fever? Is it April Fool's Day?
Have I not had enough caffeine yet?

Need to absorb. Holy crap. Must think.... as soon as I wrap my mind around this I will be making calls to our beloved (NOT) politicians in Oklahoma.

Thanks Katie!

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