Pentagon Threatens Cuts to Families Dealing with Autism

The Pentagon is considering cutting funding for treatment of Autistic children in half.  This action, if taken, could devastate families like mine.

As part of the effort to cut defense department health costs, the Pentagon plans to slash provider reimbursements related to care for autistic children under TRICARE, the military’s healthcare plan.

The Tricare manual regarding provider reimbursements, released in September,  cuts autism care provider pay from $125 a hour to between $50 and $68 an hour.  As a beneficiary of these programs, I can vouch for the fact that, even before the proposed cuts, Tricare often is at the very low end of payments to providers.  I believe that medical professionals who accept Tricare patients are doing their part to help military families like mine, and I appreciate them.  The proposed cuts are an insult to the doctors  and therapists and a shot to the knees of military families faced with mounting costs of providing necessary treatments for our neurologically struggling kids.

Justifiably, many healthcare providers are balking at the pay cuts, because they won’t be able to provide their services at the lower rates. If the cuts go through, providers say the services will disappear.

Families will be forced to go without care or to seek out-of-network providers, at much higher rates.  By more than doubling the out of pocket medical costs for already struggling military families, the organization which is supposed to be looking out for its members is essentially cutting off essential care, thus stifling the development of our kids.

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Early and continued therapies are essential to the progressive development of autistic children and young adults.  My son, Zack, has been getting supportive services since he was two years old.  He was basically non verbal until the age of four.  He struggled with putting pencil to paper and couldn’t throw a ball.  At 16, after years of speech therapy, social skills counseling and occupational therapy, Zack is doing remarkably, well.  He still struggles, every day, with many challenges related to his Autism Spectrum Disorder, including, but not nearly limited to: Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Auditory Processing Disorder, Sensory Integration Disorder and Anxiety.  Thanks, though, to the continued care he has received for the past 14 years, through Tricare, he can manage them.  He carries on meaningful conversations with peers and adults; stays on track with his schedule, personal care and homework load; maintains very good grades at a highly intense independent overseas school, in Honors, IB and AP classes; and has a job tutoring math.

Without the care and education we have received from Tricare providers, the road would have been more bumpy and much longer.  If the Pentagon makes the financial cuts, over 1,200 children will see an immediate cut in their care.  These kids will suffer, not just in the short term, but in the long term as well.  Young autistic kids become autistic adults.  Therapies and treatments in childhood go a long way toward helping them develop into adults who can often live independent lives.  Kids left to flounder, without care, because their parents serve our country whose leaders cut their medical benefits, might suffer long term consequences and have to depend on other forms of more intense and costly care throughout their adult lives.

A Navigation Behavior Consulting survey of TRICARE providers who work with autistic children, found that 95 percent of these providers planned to cut back on the services they offer, while 22 percent intended to stop working with military children altogether, if the changes were to go through.

According to figures in Tricare documents, more than 7,800 military children received Autism related services in 2013.

Thanks, in part, to leaders such as Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the Pentagon has delayed the cuts until April, (which, ironically, is Autism Awareness month) but already some providers are seeing their reimbursements dwindling as a result of other changes to the system.  The Department of Defense and Congress need to hear from families and their supporters that the proposed cuts are not the way to save money in the defense department budget.

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We cannot let these cuts go through next year.

If you agree that the cuts should be stopped, let the leadership know!

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Westley the 3 Legged Wonder Dog Has Landed

Westley arrived in Taipei on Monday afternoon.  His afternoon arrival made it impossible for him to go to the quarantine facility until the next day.  Our customs agent took care of his well being over night, and Horatio made arrangements for us to go to visit him today.

I took the bus to the metro to Horatio’s office so that we could go to the facility together.  I packed some essentials to make Wes feel more at home: his teddy bear, a rawhide bone and a pair of pjs that Harold has been sleeping in for a few days, so that Wes could have his best buddy’s scent with him when he sleeps.

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The Veterinary Hospital of National Taiwan University houses the quarantine facility, so a veterinarian greeted us upon our arrival and led us to our boy.

You can see the video here:

The doctor gave us an update on Westley’s condition and disposition and I’m relieved to report that she says he’s happy and eating well.  That’s a huge relief.  She says he “has lots of energy.”  A fact we know very well.

He did seem a bit stressed.  He was clearly very happy to see us, but he was panting a lot, which he does when he’s nervous.  I’m going to go back to visit him tomorrow and I will take his bed so he can sleep comfortably.  I can stay for an hour and a half, so I’ll just go hang out with him to make him feel more settled.  Visiting hours are 10:00-11:30 and 2:00-3:30 only on certain days and only by appointment, so the boys cannot visit until next Friday, when Bob and Harold don’t have school and the following Friday, when Zack and Dwight don’t have school.  Yes, they all go to the same school, but different sub schools have parent-teacher conferences on different days due to extremely limited parking.

Horatio took the crate apart so that I could transport it home in a taxi.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large crate.  Luckily, I had a very nice taxi driver who helped me unload it into our entryway when we reached my house.  He was eager to chat on the 45 minute drive home.  He spoke a little English, about as much Mandarin as I speak.  He said he speaks Japanese much better than he speaks English!  We managed to have a nice conversation about the dog, life in Taipei, Japanese tourists, families, America and France (I’m not sure how France came up.)

I’m extremely relieved to know that Westley made it through the flight in good health.  Now the countdown begins to when we can bring him home on November 4th.

 

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Waiting for Westley

One of the most complicated parts of our relocation to Taiwan is moving our beloved canine companion, our four year old, three legged, German Shorthaired Pointer, Westley. (We are big fans of The Princess Bride.)

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Harold and Bob with Wes before we left the USA

We adopted Westley when he was 2 1/2 years old.  He’d been hit by a car and lost his front left leg.  Rejected by his original owners, he was looking for a forever home right when we were looking to bring a dog into our lives.  It was a perfect match.  At the time, we didn’t know we’d be moving overseas and when we found out, we had to make the decision of what to do about Wes.

For housing, we were given the choice of living in the city, in an apartment; or up on the mountain, in a house with a yard.

Harold and WesHow could we look at this pair and not choose the place where we could take Wes with us?

Taiwan considers itself to be a rabies free country.  I guess the dogs are rabies free but other wild animals do carry the disease.  So, I was a bit surprised when we found out, three months before our departure, that dogs need a rabies titer test six months before they can be verified as rabies free for their import into Taiwan, and upon their arrival in Taiwan, they must endure a three week quarantine. (Too soon for Ebola jokes.)

A wonderful friend and coworker stepped up and offered her family to keep Wes until he was medically cleared to travel to us.

I took Westley for his test on April 7.  I know that vet visits and tests are never inexpensive, but when the receptionist at the veterinary office said the cost for the test was “286,” it gave me pause.  I thought, “286? It can’t be 2 dollars and 86 cents, so it has to be $286.00.”  Whoa.  Let the money bleeding begin…

Here we are, 6 months later, and I’m in the midst of the head spinning process of getting Westley cleared to fly and on his way.  We need a customs broker in the US and another one here in Taipei.  This, of course, translates to more costs.

The shipping specialist at Horatio’s office here told us last week that the shipping window for Wes is October 10-16.  If we cannot get him here by the 16th, he can’t be imported until January due to restrictions of capacity at the quarantine facility here.

I booked Westley onto the same United Airline route our family flew in July, only to find out that his crate size, due to his 65 pound size, is too large for the first leg of the flight.  The earlier flight, which could carry his crate, leaves DC at 8:30 in the morning and dogs have to be at the cargo area 3 hours prior to flight.  The agent I spoke with informed me that the cargo facility does not open until 6:30, so we could not book him on the flight, and offered no other alternatives.  Wait. What?  That makes no sense.

At this point in the process, I decided to turn the flight booking over to the customs facilitator, whose job it is to know the routes and the most pet friendly airlines.  (Are your pupils dollar signs yet?  We are just getting started.)

The wonderful folks at Animailers, out of Millersville, MD,  know what they are doing and do it well.  Before I knew it, Westley was booked on KLM, via Amsterdam, where they have a facility for a comfort layover for pets.  Animailers handled the purchase of the airline compliant crate and accoutrements for the journey.  I wanted to leave no room for logistical mistakes.

The next step in the process was to get Wes to the vet for his pre flight check-up, which must occur no more than 10 days prior to arrival at the destination and must be certified by the USDA, which is a three hour drive from where Wes was staying.  I lay awake at night, fretting over the process, until I decided to turn that step over to Animailers as well.  (cha ching.)  Sometimes, throwing money at a problem to make it go away, is the only answer.  They picked Westley up on Monday so that he can stay with them until flight time.

On the road...

On the road…

They will take care of all of the details from this point forward.  Now I can lay awake worrying about other things… (see below.)

I got word today that Wes passed his check up and the paperwork is on its way to USDA, via FedEx.  He is scheduled to fly out on Saturday and arrive in Taipei on Monday.  Because he will arrive after noon on Monday, he must stay at the airport to await transport to the quarantine facility until Tuesday morning.  He will be cared for by the import facilitator until he can be driven to the quarantine, which is located some distance away.  (At a cost, of course.)  We must pick up his crate within 24 hours of his arrival, or they will donate the crate.  We don’t have our car yet, so I’m not sure how this is going to happen, but I guess we will figure it out.

We can visit Westley two or three times per week during his three weeks in quarantine.  I don’t know how I feel about that, though.  Won’t he be confused, after he sees us, about why the heck we are leaving him there?

I’ve been keeping a running tally in my head and we are approaching $5000 US to ship our beloved rescue dog here.  If I don’t laugh about it and think about how happy we will all be to be reunited with him, I might cry.  Especially when I think about repeating the process, in an even more complicated way, in less than two years when we move to our next posting.

For now, I’ll dream of the upcoming joyous reunion with Westley the Wonder Dog.  That is, if I can sleep!

 

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Book Review: Full Measure, By T. Jefferson Parker

 

 

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I received an advanced copy of the book, Full Measure, by prolific author, T. Jefferson Parker.

I don’t do many book reviews, but this one appealed to me because it is a family saga that captures a man’s complicated journey from military life back to the real world.  I’ve heard so many of these stories in real life, I was curious to read a piece of fiction bringing a story to life.

Inspired by the troops returning to Camp Pendleton, which is located near the author’s hometown of Fallbrook, CA, Parker interviewed them about their experiences upon their return from Afghanistan.  These interviews helped Parker create the character of Patrick, the book’s returning veteran.  So impressed with the troops during their conversations, Parker also began holding writing workshops for them at the base. Parker talks about his experiences with the troops in the accompanying author Q&A.

I appreciate the authenticity Parker’s interviews brought to the story’s well developed characters.

Patrick Norris has seen the worst that Afghanistan has to offer—excruciating heat, bitter cold, and death waiting behind every rock as comrades are blown to pieces by bombs and snipers.  He returns home exhilarated  by his new freedom and eager to realize his dream of a sport fishing business.  But he is shocked to learn that the avocado ranch his family has owned for generations in the foothills of San Diego has been destroyed by a massive wildfire and the parents he loves are facing ruin.

Ted Norris worships his brother and yearns for his approval.  Gentle by nature, but tormented by strange fixations with a dark undercurrent, Ted is drawn into a circle of violent, criminal misfits.  His urgent quest to prove himself threatens to put those he loves in peril.

Patrick puts his own plans on hold to save the family’s home and falls in love with Iris, a beautiful and unusual woman, when disaster strikes.  When Ted’s plan for redemption goes terribly wrong, he tries to disappear.  Desperate to find his brother and salvage what remains of his family, Patrick must make an agonizing choice.

The story kept my interest and I cared about the outcome of the characters and how it would all come together.  Full Measure is a good, solid read.  Entertaining and insightful.  I recommend it to military families and civilian families alike.

 

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And Now There’s No Milk

I don’t know what’s going on here, but now, not only is there no bread, there’s also no milk on the grocery store shelves.

Where's the milk?

Where’s the milk?

What looks like half gallons of milk on the shelves is actually oat milk, apple milk and a bit of chocolate milk.  I’m OK with the chocolate milk, the apple milk is not appealing and I’m not sure what nutrients are in oat milk.  What I need is good old fashioned whole milk from a cow.  I have four growing boys and this little grocery store is my only option in our little village.

I found the other items on my list and checked out, where, as usual, the young cashier asked, “Yao dai zi ma?”  Which means “Do you need a bag?”  I am in the habit of taking my reusable bags to the store with me, as I was in the US, but I sometimes forget.   I stopped at the store immediately following my morning run and I did not have a bag with me, so I answered, “Dui, wo yao. Xie xie.”  (Yes, I want. Thank you.)  In Taiwan, if you need a plastic bag, you have to pay for it.  I think it’s about 6 cents, but I’m not sure. Whatever it is, I don’t like to have to use plastic bags or pay for them, so I was pleased when, after I dug the money out of my SPIbelt,

spibeltI saw that the cashier had neatly packed my groceries into one bag.

IMG_5770I thanked her, gave her a thumbs up, complemented her packing abilities, and then turned to pick up the bag and head home.  That was when I saw the problem.  The bag was so full, I could not grasp the two handles with one hand.  The carton of liquid yogurt, butter, oranges, kiwis, bananas, etc. made for a heavy bag that I had to carry with both arms on my 1/3 mile walk home.

If I’d been able to buy the milk, I’d have needed two bags.

I should have bought some ice cream.

Lesson learned.

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Babiators Cool Sunglasses for Kids

Bob in Babiators

Bob in his Babiators

*Disclosure: I received this product to facilitate my review, these opinions are my own and were in no way influenced by another person.

I selected a pair of Black Ops Black Polarized sunglasses from Babiators for my 10 year old son, Bob.  The description of the classic size says “3-7+” and at age 10, they fit him very well.  The frames are flexible and seem very durable.  Now that we live in a hot and sunny climate, good sunglasses are not only a stylish accessory, but are a real necessity.  Babiators feature 100% UV protection for little eyes and with the amount of time the kids spend outside here, the protection is a primary concern.

Not only are Babiators products terrific quality and very stylish, every Babiators product comes with a Lost & Found Guarantee: if your Babiators are lost or broken within a year of purchase, they’ll replace them for free—guaranteed!  This is especially appealing to parents like me, who have at least one child who tends to misplace things.  I’m not going to name names.

Babiators was featured as a “must-have” product by the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Vogue Magazine, Giuliana & Bill, US Magazine, People Magazine, and more. Celebrity children of Sarah Jessica Parker, Nick and Vanessa Lachey, Neil Patrick Harris and many more have been spotted rockin’ their Babiators.

They have a great line of kids’ products, including Original Babiators sunglasses, Polarized sunglasses, Submariners swim goggles, Rocket Packs backpacks, and Rx prescription glasses. Check out Babiators sunglasses and more at their website here.

Use the promo code: DeploymentDiatribes when you check out at Babiators to receive 20% off of your order!


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Holiday Gift Guide Openings

Gift boxes

I am putting together a holiday gift guide and am open to suggestions. If you have an idea, send it my way. Contact me at CINChomefront@gmail.com.

I will put the list together with reviews and publish it in November.

It’s never too soon to start thinking of the holidays!

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An Easy Way to Help Veterans

You can Help Improve the Life of a visually impaired Veteran

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Vision to Share campaign will provide up to $50,000 to raise, train and place an America’s VetDogs guide dog with a visually impaired veteran, and you can help in a simple way:

People nationwide are encouraged to participate by visiting SeeMuchMore.com and sharing the Vision to Share video. Every time a person shares the video through Facebook, Twitter or email, VSP will make a donation toward the care and training of a guide dog.

 There are 1.5 million veterans in the United States whose daily lives are affected by vision issues that often originate from active duty service. For these veterans, a highly trained guide dog can empower them to lead active, independent lives. Today, not-for-profit VSP® Vision Care, the nation’s leading vision care company, announced a partnership with America’s VetDogs®, a not-for-profit guide and service dog school that serves the needs of veterans with disabilities, to launch the Vision to Share campaign. Through the campaign, VSP will provide up to $50,000 to raise, train and place a guide dog with a veteran who is blind or has low vision.

“As a not-for-profit, VSP invests in tackling vision-related challenges around the globe, including those our veterans may face,” said VSP Vision Care President Jim McGrann. “VSP has a deep commitment to supporting U.S. military members and veterans through our ongoing hiring efforts, employee-led veterans resource group and dedication to ensuring all have access to quality eye care and eyewear. The Vision to Share campaign is a natural extension of our efforts and provides an easy way for everyone to join our commitment to improve the life of a visually impaired veteran.”

In addition to the online component of the Vision to Share campaign, VSP’s mobile eye care clinics will travel to three U.S. cities and provide free eye care to veterans and families in need. The clinic will make stops in:

  • Dallas, Texas, on September 3
  • Sacramento, California, on World Sight Day, October 9
  • Washington, D.C., on Veterans Day, November 11

There will also be activities on-site, including guide dog trainers, who will discuss the training process; opportunities to meet a guide dog or guide dog in training; and veterans who have been successfully matched with a guide dog.

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“America’s VetDogs has placed more than 300 assistance dogs with veterans with disabilities at no cost to the veterans,” said Wells Jones, CEO of America’s VetDogs. “Campaigns such as Vision to Share are critical to our mission, and VSP has been a wonderful partner. Not only are we raising awareness about the struggles faced by veterans with low vision, but we’re also inspiring the greater community to band together to improve the lives of these American heroes.”

To date, through Eyes of Hope® charity programs, including VSP Mobile Eyes®, VSP Global® companies have invested nearly $167 million in free eye care and eyewear for close to 915,000 adults and children in need.

For more information about the VSP Vision to Share campaign, as well as to find eye health resources and more, visit SeeMuchMore.com.

About VSP Global

VSP Global® unites industry-leading businesses to bring the highest quality eye care and eyewear products and services to help people see across the globe. VSP Global businesses include not-for-profit VSP® Vision Care, the largest vision care company with more than 71 million members and a network of 30,000 eye doctors in the U.S., Australia, United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland; Marchon® Eyewear Inc., one of the three largest global manufacturers, designers and distributors of quality fashion and technologically advanced eyewear and sunwear; Eyefinity®, the largest EHR and premier practice management software company for the eye care industry; VSP Optics Group, industry leaders in new lens technologies, production processes, service and logistics; and VSP Retail, delivering a memorable consumer experience through a variety of channels that meet the diverse needs of VSP customers. VSP Global businesses operate in 100 countries on six continents.

About America’s VetDogs

America’s VetDogs (www.VetDogs.org) serves the needs of veterans with disabilities from all eras who have honorably served our country. VetDogs trains and places guide dogs with individuals who are blind; service dogs for those with other physical disabilities; and physical and occupational therapy dogs to work with service members in military and VA hospitals. It is accredited by Assistance Dogs International and the International Guide Dog Federation.

America’s VetDogs is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization founded by the Guide Dog Foundation and relies on voluntary contributions to fund its mission. It costs over $50,000 to breed, raise, train, and place one assistance dog; however, there is never a charge to the individual.  

 

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Searching High and Low for Bread and a Run

I can’t find a reliable source for sliced bread.  I thought I had, but it turns out I haven’t.  I’m looking forward to the arrival of our bread machine in our shipment as much as anything. 

I’ve been to the local grocery store three times this week and the bakery shelves are completely bare. It’s a strange thing.  I can understand regular western products disappearing from the shelves.  If they can’t get the supply, they can’t put it on the shelves.  But they bake the bread in the store, so what’s the deal? 

While I continue my pursuit of bread, I also remain in pursuit of a good route for my run.  The route I have been taking for the past three weeks is basically a steep incline up the mountain and therefor, a steep decline back home.  Neither of which is ideal.  So, today I headed up through the village, where I’d been told the road leads to a less hilly path.  It was beautiful and I was happy to see that while most of the route was mildly hilly, it was definitely doable. 

The area where I ran is so remote, my map my run app lost connection.  I kept waiting for the notification that I’d reached the mile mark, but it didn’t come.  When I finally stopped to check my phone, knowing I had to have run a mile, just based on the time, I saw that the connection had been lost.  I turned around and after several minutes, I heard the familiar voice say something wholly unfamiliar.  “Time, five minutes 37 seconds; Distance, one mile.”  I laughed out loud.  Twice that is more like it.  It was fun to hear, though. 

These are pictures from my new route.  It is truly beautiful but the smell is more than a little unpleasant due to the hot springs in the area.  Sulfur!  I’ll have to find the hot springs on my next route.

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Waterfall!

Waterfall!

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The locals use pipes to take advantage of the fresh water, but it spoils the view.

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Camp Sunshine Supports Military Families- Special Event With Navy SEALS August 21

HOPE

Camp Sunshine is a retreat in Casco, Maine that provides respite and hope for children with rare and life-threatening illnesses and their families. Situated on a 27-acre campus on the shores of Sebago Lake, Camp Sunshine has welcomed families from 48 different states and 24 countries to its facilities to participate in a week of healing, growth, and relaxation so that they may go back out and fight their battles with renewed strength and energy.

Sebago Lake

Incredibly,  due to the generosity of its donors, the camp provides housing, meals, camp activities, and 24 hour on-site medical support for free to every single family that comes for a session. Having served over 40,000 family members in its 30 year existence, Camp Sunshine provides a wealth of information and resources for families who are struggling to make sense of life with a child with a rare and life-threatening illness. The camp is committed to providing families with lasting memories and allowing them to build a community with other families who are also traveling the journey with a child with a rare and life-threatening illness.

future Oncologist

 While Camp Sunshine has welcomed military families through its doors year after year, an exciting opportunity will now make this magical place a reality for even more! On August 21st, four active duty Navy SEALs will be swimming the 13 mile length of the lake where Camp Sunshine is located in the hopes of raising $80,000, enough to send 40 more military families to Camp Sunshine in the future. The evening following the swim, a gala dinner will be held at Camp Sunshine with an opportunity to meet the SEALs, followed by a keynote address from an honored guest.

For those interested in attending this event, more information can be found at http://www.sealsforsunshine.org, where there are options to purchase tables at the gala dinner as well as reserve a spot on the beach where the SEALs will finish their swim. In addition, donations can be made towards the SEALs for Sunshine event here, where they will be doubled by the New Balance Foundation as part of a $300,000 matching campaign they have with Camp Sunshine. As a reminder, all contributions for this event will go towards helping military families with a child with a rare and life-threatening illness experience the magic of Camp Sunshine. For families who believe they may qualify, information about Camp Sunshine’s programming can be found on their website, along with general information and testimonials.

Sunny w-kids

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