Stephen, Leesa, Tyler and Jason
Master Sergeant Stephen Sparks and his wife, Leesa, have 30 years of combined service in the military. Stephen is currently one year from retirement. Leesa quit her job to take care of their sons, 11-year-old Jason and 13-year-old Tyler, who has autism. Tyler was first diagnosed with developmental delays while the Sparks were serving in Turkey. The military’s Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) requires that if you have a family member with a disability, you must return immediately to the United States. The Sparks family moved to Massachusetts for five years, then Converse, Texas, where they currently reside.
Tyler attends a school in the San Antonio area that specializes in applied behavior analysis, which is essential if Tyler is to meet his full potential. The school provides individualized work/training skills which are important to Tyler for future community living. He wants to go to a cooking school and become a famous chef. He is currently taking cooking classes at the school.
The Sparks’ military insurance covers Tyler’s $2,500 a month expense for school tuition and transportation. But, if Stephen retires and Tyler is still on the waiting list for Medicaid services, Tyler will lose all of the services he currently has. Tyler has been on the waiting lists for five years; he is number five on the Home and Community-Based Services (HCS) waiting list.
This dilemma is further exacerbated by Stephen’s recent deployment orders which are to report by December 31, 2008, to go to the Middle East for a year of duty. Thus far, he has had six tours of active duty in the Middle East for a total of 522 days in active combat. Upon completion of this tour, his orders are to report to one of three bases, all of which are outside of Texas. To avoid losing his son’s placement on the waiting list, he plans to retire upon return from the Middle East.
The Sparks have met with several state legislators regarding how the waiting list affects military families, with one expressing an interest in exploring such during the next Legislative Session. While Stephen will not be here during the 81st Texas Legislature, he says he would like legislators to know that “Every decision we make is based on these Medicaid waiting lists. I would rather go to war than lose my place on the waiting list. I am willing to leave my family if I can get services for my child.”