If you are a military family with special needs, please understand that you are not alone, says Jeremy Hilton on “Making It in the MilLife”.
We are parents just like you. We’ve been doing this for a while – not perfectly, but we hope that you can learn from our experiences. Whatever your situation, know that we are all here to help you and your family.
The deployments and training over the past nine years associated with two conflicts, in addition to the normal military lifestyle, has caused the stress level of the force and its families to be exceptionally high.
Blue Star Families www.bluestarfam.org just released its 2010 Military Family survey of 3,634 military family members (sponsored in part by MOAA), noting significant levels of stress within families. Imagine taking this same stress and compounding it with a child (or in some cases a spouse) that has a serious, chronic medical issue. For 100,000+ military family members impacted by a disability, a lack of support and appropriate services within the military and community can be catastrophic. It is important for military families to understand, particularly those with a new diagnosis, that there are other military families who understand and know what they are going through. Many military families are also advocating for needed changes within the Congress and DoD so that our families receive the assistance they need.
Services work to improve outreach to special needs families
Over the course of the last four to five years, there has been quite a lot going on in the world of military families impacted by disability. The Marine Corps has consistently been out front in supporting their Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), with case management, lawyers for special education consultation and respite as just a few examples. On the other end of the spectrum, the Air Force is finally taking action to improve its EFMP program after the DoD and AF Inspector General’s recently found the Air Force’s program to be inadequate and poorly executed. [An important note…as an Air Force family, I do have faith that the leadership is now taking appropriate action to ensure appropriate policies and supports are in place to meet EFMP family’s needs. I am particularly encouraged that Suzie Schwartz, the AF Chief of Staff’s wife, has joined the discussion and is already impacting on the issue in a positive way for our families.] Partially as a response to these disparities, the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorized the creation of a new DoD office (Office of Community Support for Military Families with Special Needs) to standardize the quality of services provided to EFMP families and to ensure best practices are used across the military branches in the delivery of support to our families. Whether or not this office will be able to meet these goals has not yet been determined, but we are hopeful.
Getting Congress involved in special needs advocacy
A number of military families have been involved in advocating for improvements in the medical and educational arenas. From the continuing pressure to appropriately fund the treatment of autism to ensuring that our children have access to an appropriate education, families have been taking our issues to Congress and the White House. In the proposed 2011 NDAA, the House has added requests to have the General Accounting Office (GAO) review the practices of the individual service’s EFMP offices as well as the new DoD office. This type of oversight by Congress is essential in ensuring that our families are not left behind. In the Senate’s proposed version of the 2011 NDAA, the Senate inserted a number of provisions to ensure military children can appropriately access special education as well as enhance the transparency and effectiveness of the new DoD office.
National nonprofits join the effort
Within the cities and towns next to military bases, more and more national nonprofits are realizing the need to bridge the gap between the community and the military on the issues related to disabilities. The ARC www.thearc.org is in the midst of a national survey to better understand the needs of military families. STOMP, Specialized Training of Military Parents, www.stompproject.org provides military specific training regarding children with disabilities and has a listserv for parents to parent discussion. MOAA, the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), and various other service organizations are but a few who have recently been important in helping military families with special needs.
I have a number of other items to add, but I’ve run out of space for this blog. Needless to say, if you are a military family with special needs, particularly if you are new to this situation, please understand that are not alone. We are parents just like you. We’ve been doing this for a while – not perfectly, but we hope that you can learn from our experiences and as you come across problem areas, we so hope you’ll join the conversation for change. Whatever your situation, know that we are all here to help you and your family.
Posted on “Making It in the MilLife” by Jeremy Hilton, a Navy veteran, Air Force spouse and father of two. He serves on the 2010-2011 Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) Currently Serving Spouse Advisory Council.