Note from MOAA: Shane Hand is a recipient of MOAA's Colonel Paul W. Arcari Meritorious Service Award, which honors congressional staff members who have made significant contributions to the uniformed services community. Read more about MOAA’s 2021 award winners.
By Kristin Davis
Shane Hand comes from a family of veterans. When he learned just one week into his job as legislative assistant to Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) that military families with special needs dependents couldn’t access certain critical services under TRICARE, he wanted to help change it.
Accessing respite care, assistive technology, educational training, and other services can prove difficult for civilians and active duty servicemembers alike. Families can spend at least 30 months on a state’s waitlist for Medicaid home- and community-based services. But every time a military family relocates, they get relegated to the bottom of the list.
“I wondered why we were penalizing these families who had already given up so much,” Hand said. “It’s an issue about equity and making sure we’re not asking these families to give up services they would have if they were not serving our country.”
Making changes to state-run Medicaid programs wasn’t the ideal way to tackle the issue. But the TRICARE Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) Improvement Act, which provides improved benefits under TRICARE’s ECHO Program for military families with special needs dependents, was a good place to start.
Thanks to Hand’s work, which included securing bipartisan support from Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), the House adopted the bipartisan bill as part of the FY 2021 NDAA, which Congress approved at the end of 2020.
Respite care doubled from 16 to 32 hours, and DoD now is required to do an annual assessment of families affected by ECHO to determine how to better serve them. In addition, the Government Accountability Office must compile a best-practices list for ECHO after reviewing each state’s Home and Community Based Services programs.
“It felt very good to see it come to fruition,” said Hand, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Southern Methodist University in 2014 and spent two years in Phoenix teaching science for Teach for America before relocating to Washington. “It was a two-year process trying to convince people how important this is.”
Hand typically doesn’t handle military issues, but this one spoke to his heart.
“When we’re asking people to serve, they’re making enough sacrifices already,” he said. “Asking them to make more sacrifices and forego medical care for their family that they would otherwise have if they were not active duty servicemembers is a step too far.”