Tagged: military children

GOP Senator Places DoD Schools, Commissary Benefits Under Budget Scrutiny

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

describe the imageSenator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is a fiscal conservative known for his advocacy against needless federal spending and government waste. Recently, however, Senator Coburn turned his sights on the military commissary benefit.

The commissary system receives direct federal subsidies and enables military families to save up to 30 percent on groceries, according to the Military Family Association, which vociferously opposes cutting the program.

The Report

Senator Coburn’s office issued a report on Department of Defense spending with the tongue-in-cheek title The Department of Everything. In the report, Coburn chastises the Administration for using defense funds to do everything from brew beer to study dinosaurs. Most of these programs he mentions are obvious and profligate wastes. But he also criticizes the department for running the DoD school system and the cherished commissary system, which until recently were not particularly controversial.


But Coburns’ office argues that domestic DoD education programs are duplicative:

The Defense Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools (DDESS) that educates children of military families here in the United States and the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs that duplicate the work of the Department of Education and local school districts ($10.7 billion). The Department of Defense Tuition Assistance Program which provides college funding for military members on active duty and duplicates the Department of Veterans Affairs ($4.5 billion).

Further, Coburn argues that the domestic DoD school system is extraordinarily expensive and wasteful: The Department of Defense operates 64 domestic schools on 16 different military installations serving 19,000 students, at a cost of $50,000 per student.

In contrast, the average per pupil education expenditure for public schools nationwide was $10,694 in 2008-2009, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Furthermore, Coburn finds that DoD schools are top-heavy with public employee salaries: The staff to student ratio for public schools nationwide is 15-1, Coburn asserts; the staff-to-student ratio in the domestic DoD school system is 9.5 to 1.

These schools cost the taxpayer nearly half a billion dollars in 2010, according to the Senator’s report.


Coburn argues that the taxpayer could also save $9 billion per year by eliminating subsidies to military commissaries – which would force military families to go off post to do their grocery shopping. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that military families would pay about 7 percent more in groceries per year – or about $400 per year, per Coburn’s office. (His report is missing the footnote, however.) Coburn advocates taking the savings from the commissary subsidy and increasing pay or the basic allowance for housing benefit. However, if Congress transfers this money to BAH, reserve component members would generally lose their commissary benefit without any compensating benefit in pay, since reservists and Guardsmen do not receive BAH.

Coburn’s report echoes an earlier recommendation by the Congressional Budget office that the Department of Defense eliminate the commissary subsidy in favor of a grocery allowance.

Meanwhile, Coburn’s calculation that the average military family receives only a $400 benefit from the commissary program – and the CBO’s recommendation – has been hotly contested by the Military Resale and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center for Research. It calculates that a military family of four that regularly uses the commissary would save closer to $4,500 per year – and that Coburn understates the benefit to servicemembers by a factor of 10. It also concludes that the benefit for a couple equals about $2,800, and about $1,500 for single servicemembers (because all of you cook at home regularly, of course).

At any rate, don’t look for your local commissary to be padlocking its doors anytime soon. None of the proposals being put forth would totally eliminate the system, according to CouponsInTheNews.com. Some options include leasing store space to private sector grocers, or reducing the subsidy without eliminating it entirely.

Navy Family in Battle with TRICARE to Treat Special Needs Child

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

TRICARE won't pay for child's therapy with a horseKaitlyn N. Samuels, the 16-year-old daughter of a Navy officer, was born with a variety of congenital disabilities, including cerebral palsy, severe life-threatening progressive scoliosis, and developmental retardation – her brain functions at the toddler level.

Kaitlyn needs ongoing physical therapy to help her exercise the muscles that allow her to sit upright and stabilize herself. Otherwise the curvature of her spine will eventually cause bones to leave their sockets and crush her lungs. She doesn’t respond to physical therapy in a hospital or clinic setting, though. So her therapists hit on the idea – get her on the back of a horse.

The response was positive. While Kaitlyn would shut down and not cooperate with her therapy sessions in a clinical setting, she loves riding the horse. And it accomplishes many of the physical therapy treatment objectives – she has to concentrate on sitting upright and using her thigh, back and abdominal muscles to stabilize herself and compensate for the movement of the horse.

And what American girl doesn’t love horses?

Naturally, TRICARE, being a government bureaucracy, can’t figure that out. They issued a final decision denying coverage for her physical therapy.

While TRICARE does normally provide coverage for physical therapy in general, it won’t cover Kaitlyn’s, because Kaitlyn doesn’t do her therapy in a clinical setting with a ball and bench and other traditional clinical tools.

Hippotherapy – that is, doing physical therapy on horseback, rather than with the usual set of balls, benches and weights in a clinical setting – does not qualify for TRICARE funding, the government asserted – and so when they realized that the therapist was using a horse to get positive results rather than a ball to get no results, they stopped funding the treatment.

They even sent Kaitlyn’s father a bill – $1,324 – to reimburse them for treatment they had already funded.

The Samuels family went to appeal TRICARE’s decision. And won, initially. The hearing officer sided with Kaitlyn’s family. He held that physical therapy was physical therapy, regardless of whether it took place on horseback or in a clinic with benches, weights and braces. If physical therapy was a covered benefit, and hippotherapy was an effective form of it, it didn’t matter whether the tool was a horse or a large plastic ball.

 “It cannot be forgotten that even though [Kaitlyn] is 15 years old, she has the mental capacity of a toddler-preschool child,” he wrote in his recommendation. “It would be a waste of the Government’s money to pay for therapy in a traditional setting for it would provide no benefit.”

TRICARE’s Deputy Chief of Policy and Operations, Michael O’Bar, even went against the recommendations of his own hearing officer in the case, stating that he believed the hearing officer misapplied the statutes that govern the nature of medical documentation and peer-reviewed studies required to prove the efficacy of hippotherapy for the medical condition. As of this writing, Kaitlyn’s hippotherapy is not covered under TRICARE, period. They would fund it if she were not cooperating with her therapy in a hospital and getting no results. But TRICARE refuses to fund a treatment that has actually proven to be effective, in Kaitlyn’s case.

TRICARE officials, for their part, argue that they cannot responsibly fund experimental therapies, nor can they fund therapies that do not have a body of peer-reviewed work demonstrating effectiveness.

Kaitlyn’s family, her therapist and their lawyers, meanwhile, argue that the treatment is the same – the fact that hippotherapy takes place on a horse instead of on a ball is incidental. And given that the treatment modality, other than the context and the specific tool used, is identical, it doesn’t make sense for the government to fund one but not the other.

The government lawyer assigned to argue the case, however, argued that if one treatment that they didn’t fund worked, and the treatment that they were willing to cover was useless, then they couldn’t be the same treatment.

The government still maintains that they will fund the useless therapy in the hospital or clinic setting – but they will not fund the therapy that actually works.

O’Bar’s finding is the final authority within the TRICARE appeals process. The next step, should the Samuels family decide to pursue it, is a lawsuit in federal court – an expensive and time-consuming process.

Medicaid Doesn’t Work for Military Families

Most families with severely disabled children can apply for Medicaid benefits in the states in which they live. But for military families, Medicaid isn’t so simple: While Medicaid dollars are largely federal, each state runs its own Medicaid program – and waiting lists for Medicaid benefits are routine. In some cases, families can be on the waiting list for years before becoming eligible for benefits. But military families move every three years – usually out of state – and have to start at the bottom of the waiting list each time. That’s what’s happening here, according to Kaitlyn’s mother. Her daughter does qualify for Medicaid, but the family doesn’t stay in one state long enough for that to matter, because of the waiting list requirements. If Kaitlyn’s daughter were a deadbeat dad, she says, “We wouldn’t be here right now.”

Hippotherapy and the Romney Family

Hippotherapy came to public attention earlier this year, when it became public that Ann Romney, wife of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, credited horseback therapy with saving her life. Ann Romney was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998. The Romneys – being a family of substantial means – own a partnership in a competitive horse breeding operation, and have ready access to horses.

Ann Romney’s use of horse therapy actually became a campaign issue, briefly, and MSNBC television personality Lawrence O’Donnell actually mocked for her use of hippotherapy to treat her MS symptoms.

A number of studies have, indeed, supported the clinical benefits of hippotherapy for a variety of conditions. TRICARE, however, continues to deny treatment for the Kaitlyn Samuels.

22 Month Old Air Force Baby Dies of Neglect – In Base Housing

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Tiffany KlaphekeA 26 year-old Air Force Spouse is in jail after allegedly letting her 22-month old daughter die of malnutrition and neglect, say officials in Fort Worth, Texas. Her two other girls, one three years old and one aged six months, are in intensive care recovering from severe neglect.

Tiffany Nicole Klapheke, originally from Kentucky, was married to an airman and stationed at Dyess Air Force Bace, Texas.

Klapheke told a local television station, KTXS, that with three young children at home, she grew depressed and suicidal while her husband was deployed overseas. She also alleges that no one from the command, family support group or anywhere else called her or checked on her or asked if she needed anything.

“I know people hate me and I don’t understand, but it was not my intention. I just wanted a break for my own sanity, that’s all. I didn’t mean for it to go so far,” she told a KTXS reporter in a tearful interview from the jail where she is being held on a $500,000 bond. “I made a terrible mistake and I know I’ll be paying for it the rest of my life.”

The post, Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, the home of the 7th Bomber Wing, does have a child development center on the post. The Dyess Child Development Center assigns priority to children based on their parental employment status. Single parents on active duty receive first priority. 2nd priority goes to active duty military members with spouses who are either employed full-time or who are full-time students. Children of active-duty servicemembers or DoD contractors whose spouses are not working receive third priority, called Category 3.

The Child Development Center accepts children from age six weeks to six months. In addition to its full-time care program, the CDC also runs an hourly “drop-off” care operation.

We called the Child Development Center on September 4th and asked about the prospects for placing a 22 month old child in Category 3. Their staff told us that there was currently a waiting list for children under 24 months. Once a child reaches 24 months, “we can take those children almost walk-in,” said the CDC staffer. But the two year-old range is their highest-demand age group. Tamryn Klapheke was 22 months old when she died. Tiffany Nicole Klapheke very likely could not have gotten a placement at all for her until Tamryn reached age two.

However, there were other resources available: The Air Force Aid Society sponsors a “Give-A-Parent-a-Break Program.” This program provides monthly services for Air Force parents who need a break from the rigors of child care. The program is run on a referral basis: Chaplains, commanders and first sergeants can refer a family to these services.

Military families can also access all kinds of support and referrals from Military OneSource.

Additionally, Ms. Klapheke also had access to the Airman and Family Readiness Center on post, which could also have referred her to support systems around the community.

Aside from the point-blank issue of immediate child care availability, however, there is a broader issue of a woman — an active duty military spouse — who fell through the cracks somehow. Whether the issue was post-partum depression, organic depression not related to post-partum depression, or any other mental health issue, this woman’s children had been neglected for some time.

While rear detachment commanders — those officers who are designated to oversee administrative and logistical issues at home station while the unit main body is deployed — are not day-to-day nose-wipers or babysitters for stressed parents, they do have basic responsibility for the welfare of military families, together with the base commander and, of course, the unit commander stationed forward.

Additionally, major commands generally have informal spousal support networks — frequently headed by the wives of senior officers and NCOs. A major purpose for these family support groups is to provide a safety net and support system for spouses and their children — particularly when the servicemember is deployed.

Somehow, even though the children were severely underweight, and essentially left to dehydrate and starve in their own waste (Tamryn was only 17 and a half pounds when she died and the other two children were placed in intensive care) nobody had seen these children, or if they had seen them, no one had taken notice of their condition.

Even if the day care center on base had slots available immediately, there would still have been a spouse in need.

Mental Health Care Issues

With PTSD issues a high-visibility concern for the military, and with suicides in the military outpacing the ongoing war in Afghanistan as a cause of death, access to mental health care has been a front-burner issue for commands throughout the DoD. Mental health care access has historically been spotty, but does not appear to have been an issue in this case. Dyess Air Force Base has a mental health center on the post itself, that supports both uniformed servicemembers and their dependents. No appointment is necessary — the center is generally able to support walk-ins.

Command Response

While it’s obvious in hindsight that this woman and her children — living on post — fell through the cracks in the support and health and welfare system, the command appears to have been responsive to the incident: According to a Dyess AFB spokesperson, the 7th Bomb Wing and Dyess Air Force Base commander, has held three town halls in response, attended by family members, senior officer and NCO leadership, family members, family support group representatives, representatives from the key support facilities on post, and the post chaplain. “Base leadership plans to use feedback from these meetings to improve communication and teamwork at Dyess, thereby ensuring that Airmen and their families are being taken care of,” said the Dyess Air Force Base spokesperson.

For the time being, Dyess is not commenting on some of our specific questions, including whether Ms. Klapheke was, indeed, on the telephone roster in the family support group, and whether she had placed herself on a do-not-contact list. Family Support Group organizations are prohibited from contacting family members who elect to be put on the do-not-contact list.

However, since the Klapheke’s were occupying government housing at the time Tamryn and the other children were suffering from neglect, any such refusal can only go so far. Military housing authorities can do health and welfare inspections of military housing. However, few families want to live in an environment where federal bureaucrats would be so intrusive on a routine basis.

The father of the children, Senior Airman Thomas Klapheke, has been returned from overseas. Tiffany Nicole is still in jail. Thomas Klapheke has already updated his Facebook status to “divorced.”


  • Parents and spouses: Check on each other. Just because you think you’re doing ok doesn’t mean everyone is. Some people are more fragile and have a harder time coping than others. Cross-reinforce yourselves.
  • A phone call isn’t enough. Family support group members need to get eyeball-to-eyeball with spouses and get eyes on children.
  • If someone isn’t participating in family support group activities at all, find out why. It could be that this family is getting all the support they need from extended family and other resources. Or it could be that something is wrong. In this case, something was tragically wrong.
  • Rear detachment commanders: Take an interest in each family, down to the junior enlisted level. This is where money is the tightest, and where some of these spouses are hardly out of high school themselves — and far from home, sometimes for the first time. These are the spouses with the most limited natural support networks.
  • We have been down this road before. The stress of deployment has been demonstrated to correlate strongly with an increase in child abuse and neglect in military families. Rear detachment commanders and their support staff, including DoD civilians, would do well to familiarize themselves with the literature that already exists. In particular, the North Carolina Medical has published a detailed report exploring the vulnerability of military children to child abuse and parental homicide. 

A long time ago, at a birthday party far, far away

Posted by Debi Teter

LtCol Kiebler jediOne young Star Wars fan had the best surprise in his five years on this planet.

Danny Kiebler’s dad, United States Air Force Col. Rob Kiebler, of Beaverton, Oregon has spent the last 14 months on duty in Afghanistan. Danny wasn’t expecting to see him until the end of the summer. When his fifth birthday came around, like many young boys, he wanted a Star Wars-themed party.

Unbeknownst to Danny, his dad happens to be one stellar party planner. He came home on leave a little early and teamed up with Portland’s Cloud City Garrison, a Star Wars fan club, to give his son a gift that was out of this world.

Kiebler bought a Jedi knight costume, came to the party and blended in with the other costumed characters until the time was right to reveal his identity to his son. What happens next would melt the heart of a Sith Lord.

“I wasn’t sure he was going to let go,” said one member of the Cloud City Garrison.

It’s plain to see Col. Kiebler has a Jedi-worthy knack for strategic planning and tactical maneuvers, whether it’s for an initiative in the desert or managing the intricacies of his son’s party. Planning for the future can be tough, let alone when you’re trying to do it from the other side of the world.

Planning ahead for your kids’ education is no exception. According to an April 2012 study by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, out of all American families with financially dependent children, only 41 percent of them had money set aside for college. But never fear, young padawan. Even though the cost of higher education is increasing, with your military benefits and resources at hand, saving for your kids’ future education doesn’t have to be a galactic mess.

Like the jawa traders, we have plenty of droids – I mean, articles – for you to choose from that can help you craft a workable plan for the future. Whether you want to plan for your own continued training on Dagobah in college, find scholarship opportunities for your college-age children, or both, you can find relevant information on MilitaryAuthority.com. And may the Force be with you in your search.

Cookie Monster Wants YOU

Posted by Kelli McKinney

GU0 AdditionalResourcesForget generation X, Y, Z – I’m a proud part of generation Sesame Street. I grew up singing along with Big Bird, thought Super Grover was an underappreciated superhero, and was one of Mister Snuffalupagus’s most ardent believers.

Those moppy-headed critters were a huge part of my childhood. They taught me to read and count before I was out of preschool. When I couldn’t stomach the thought of sharing my after school snack with my little brother, it was Bert who showed me the error of my ways. Suffice it to say that I love the show with a passion, and couldn’t wait until my son was old enough and I could watch it again through his eyes.

My passion for Sesame Street and the educators behind the show grew tenfold when I learned that the amazing people at Sesame Street Workshop produced a series: Just. For. Military. Families.

As part of their mission to use educational media to help children reach their fullest potential, they’ve created an outreach program called Talk, Listen, Connect. TLC is designed to guide children through the murky emotional waters of deployments, combat-related injuries, distance, homecomings and even the death of a parent or loved one. As you would expect, their material does a brilliant job of speaking about tough topics in plain language, comforting and reassuring an often forgotten group.

They’ve produced two award-winning television specials, developed an educational kit (available on their website) and have held live performances on bases. The program helps kids manage difficult emotions by modeling how other parents, children, and familiar furry critters deal with similar circumstances. The program has so far distributed more than two and a half million kits to military families and Sesame reports nearly 3/4 of the families say they feel the program helped their child cope.

Check out this clip about the TLC program.

And if that weren’t enough, they also travel across the country with a FREE Sesame Street USO show.  *insert huge hug here.*  Our child is older now, but I’m hoping I can persuade him to go see the USO Sesame Street show for old times’ sake. They still have tour dates in Washington, California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama left this year.

Sesame is casting for their next project, which focuses on resilience, and they’re looking for military families to help. The episode they’re casting now is going to tackle the very challenging topic of divorce. Details are on their Facebook page, but it’s worth mentioning that their requirements are very specific.

If you’re a parent or family member of a preschooler or young elementary child, you know how important it is to have resources you trust and a community that supports you. For a lot of us, the Sesame Street characters became fixtures in our household and offered consistency and certainty through some very uncertain times. If there’s anyone who deserves the TLC (pun intended) that the Sesame Workshop is providing through their efforts, it’s the young children of our service members.

If you’re looking for more family life or parenting resources, visit the Military Authority Parenting & Family Life discussion page.

Have you or someone you love seen the Sesame Street show already? We’d love for you to share your thoughts about it with us here.