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Tactical Veteran: Supporting special needs children in military families

Apr. 29, 2014 - 09:28AM   |  
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A couple of columns back, I wrote about some of the resources available for dependent children who must undergo considerable transition challenges when their military parent makes a permanent change-of-station move.

This week, I’d like to talk about transition issues and support resources for a smaller slice of the dependent children population, one for which such transitions can be particularly challenging: special needs kids.

Moving from one base to another can be chaotic and stressful for everyone in a military family. For kids, one of the most important facets of a PCS move is leaving a familiar school and entering a new, strange, unfamiliar school. Add to that the fact that in recent years, our education system has been undergoing some significant changes, some of which have come fast and have confused parents, students and even educators.

The foundation of education support and assistance for special needs children is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a law enacted to ensure children with disabilities have ready access to services pertaining to early intervention, special education and other related issues. You can learn more about the basics of this law at idea.ed.gov.

With IDEA as a launch pad, the Education Department last summer issued a five-page letter to special education directors in every state, outlining in detail the federal government’s expectations when it comes to supporting highly mobile children, such as military kids, who have special needs. You can read it on the Education Department website at Militarytimes.com/special-needs-guide.

Moving further down the chain, within the Defense Department, the key benefit for military parents of special needs kids is the Exceptional Family Member Program. Your installation’s Family Support Center can give you a complete rundown of this program. Each service also has a website with details on its specific EFMP:

■ Army: Go to http://myarmybenefits.us.army.mil, then click on “Benefit Library,” then “Federal Benefits,” then “A to Z,” and scroll down to the Exceptional Family Member Program link.

■ Air Force: Go to www.usafservices.com, hover your cursor over the “Home” button, then click “Spouse Support” and “Special Needs.”

■ Coast Guard: www.uscg.mil/worklife/special_needs.asp.

■Marines Corps: Go to www.manpower.usmc.mil, click on the “Family” tab,” then on “Marine & Family Programs Division,” then “Family Care,” then “Exceptional Family Member Program.”

■Navy: militarytimes.com/navy-efmp

In addition, Military OneSource has a lot of information on the military EFMP program, from an education perspective as well as a number of other perspectives. For example, at apps.militaryonesource.mil, there is an “EFMP Education Directory” with information for parents of special needs children. At that link, you can access information on every state’s education support programs for children with special needs.

Broader information on transition and other issues for children with special needs can be found on the main Military OneSource website at www.militaryonesource.mil/efmp, including how to connect with special needs consultants.

In or out of the classroom, military children with disabilities have guaranteed rights. Military parents should take comfort in knowing that support and resources are out there to help give their children the best opportunities to grow and develop as they move from base to base during a parent’s military career.

Steven Maieli is the founder of TransitioningVeteran.com, which highlights links to federal, state, for-profit and nonprofit veterans benefits and other resources. He also writes a blog on transitioning veterans’ issues at www.transitioningveteran.com/wordpress. Send questions and comments to tacticalveteran@militarytimes.com.

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