NDAA Includes Improvements for Special Needs Families

NDAA Includes Improvements for Special Needs Families
A military family takes part in an Exceptional Family Member Program event at the Charles Town Landing Zoo near Joint Base Charleston, S.C., in 2018. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Helena B. Owens/Air Force)

As the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) moves ahead, MOAA is pleased to see continued progress on improving health care and services for military families with special medical and/or educational needs, an ongoing priority for MOAA.


The House version of the NDAA includes a provision to establish an Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) Advisory Council. MOAA supported this effort when it was introduced as a standalone bill by Reps. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) and Elaine Luria (D-Va.) earlier this year.


The council would be comprised of military families enrolled in the EFMP together with representatives from the Exceptional Family Member Program Coalition, the Defense Health Agency, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and the Office of Special Needs. They would meet quarterly and provide recommendations on improving the EFMP.


The council would provide an important feedback mechanism between EFMP families and the DoD agencies supporting them, and would allow DoD to identify the evolving needs of EFMP families and emerging gaps in the program’s services. It has the potential to play a key role in a continuous quality improvement process for EFMP, a recommendation for all military family support programs from Strengthening the Military Family Readiness System for a Changing American Society, a book-length 2019 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.


Addressing Autism Care

Another provision in the House version requires an independent review of the TRICARE Autism Care Demonstration (ACD) by the National Academies.


The ACD began in 2014 and covers applied behavior analysis (ABA) services to target the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Earlier this year, TRICARE announced comprehensive changes to the demonstration project that left many families concerned about diminished access to ABA services.


The National Academies review would, among other objectives, assess the appropriateness of DoD’s methods for measuring the effectiveness of ABA – a key concern among many families enrolled in the ACD. It also would include a review of guidelines or industry standards of care adhered to under the demonstration project.


MOAA is concerned about how comprehensive changes to the ACD may impact military families. We believe an independent review of the ACD is an appropriate next step to address these concerns.


These House provisions are not included in the Senate Armed Services Committee version of the NDAA and will have to be resolved by the bill’s conference committee.  MOAA will continue to work with our partners in The Military Coalition and the TRICARE for Kids Coalition to ensure these provisions are included in the final version of the FY 2022 NDAA. 


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About the Author

Karen Ruedisueli
Karen Ruedisueli

Ruedisueli is MOAA’s Director of Government Relations for Health Affairs and also serves as co-chair of The Military Coalition’s (TMC) Health Care Committee. She spent six years with the National Military Family Association, advocating for families of the uniformed services with a focus on health care and military caregivers.