Analysis: TRICARE Should Cover Physical Therapy Involving Horses

Marine Corps veteran Angel Gomez rides a horse as an instructor looks on during Hippotherapy at the NCEFT, National Center for Equine Facilitate Therapy. Marine Corps veteran Angel Gomez rides a horse as an instructor looks on during Hippotherapy at the NCEFT, National Center for Equine Facilitate Therapy. Eric Risberg/AP File Photo

Congress has an opportunity now -- this week, this month, today even-- to do something truly noble; something that will help a disabled young woman, the daughter of a Navy captain, and thousands of other military families all across the country. Our federal lawmakers are about to contemplate the virtues and merits of a new military health insurance rule that clarifies the scope of reimbursement policies to ensure they cover an innovative form of physical therapy, called "hippotherapy," that has consistently proven to work on those who need it most.

The proposed measure introduced in the House of Representatives this week by Rep. Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, is called "Kaitlyn's Law." You remember Kaitlyn Samuels, don't you? She's unforgettable. As chronicled last year in The Atlantic, she's the young woman whose physical disabilities make it impossible for her to walk or talk. In 2009, her loving parents discovered a form of physical therapy that helped Kaitlyn, body and soul. The therapy involves Kaitlyn sitting atop a horse, riding around a ring, allowing the animal's natural gait and rhythm to straighten her back, help her balance, and ease the pain from her severe scoliosis.

But when the Samuels' sought reimbursement for this professional therapy from TRICARE, the military's health care system, the request was denied. Such therapy, officials declared, was "unproven" and thus not reimbursable. What followed over the course of the next few years was a typical story of Pentagon mindlessness. Federal officials declared that they would reimburse the family for therapy that didn't work on Kaitlyn -- like sitting on a bench -- but would not reimburse the family for the physical therapy that did. The family's efforts to seek legal relief failed. The Pentagon said it needed additional guidance from Congress.

That was then. This is now. Since November, the family has received financial support from Jeff Gural, a racehorse owner and breeder and owner of racetracks in New York and New Jersey. (The ever-gracious family, in turn, re-donated some of that money to other children in need of hippotherapy.) The Samuels also have received legal help from Marcella Burke, a smart attorney with the powerful Akin Gump law firm. And, just in the past few days, the family finally has received a measure of political support from Rep. Burgess and Rep. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and who thus understands more than most the burdens TRICARE may impose on military families. Read the rest at TheAtlantic.com.

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