Supporting Military Families: Resources to Take Advantage Of
Military families face unique challenges. Every so often, you can expect to pack up and move – possibly to the other side of the world. As an Army brat who was shuttled from Heidelberg, Germany to a tiny island in the South Pacific (Kwajalein) and everywhere in between, I can vouch for the benefits of the unique experiences that living abroad provides. But because I was a kid, I also didn’t have all those adult concerns – like finding a good school or finding new speech therapy resources. And military families with special needs kids have even more on their plates to deal with. In fact, according to one estimate, about 12% of U.S. military families have a family member with special needs. Behind that uniform – the ultimate symbol of respect and authority – could be somebody who is preoccupied with trying to coax one little word out of his autistic son. Fortunately, there is a network of support for military families, and the resources listed below are intended specifically for military families with special needs kids.
If you’re an active service member with a family member who has special needs or ongoing medical issues, enrollment in EFMP is mandatory. This program allows for special needs to play a factor in relocation. In other words, you’ll be assigned to an area that has resources to support those needs. Through EFMP, military families can also gain access to information about local advocacy groups, specialized services (day care, etc.), accessible housing for those with mobility problems, and more. It is essentially a gateway to services, and each branch has an EFMP program.
Remember those federally funded parent training and information (PTI) centers we talked about in our post on resources for special needs kids in California? STOMP is a PTI for military families. It’s staffed by parents just like you – their kids have various disabilities and they’ve faced the challenges of relocation and deployment. STOMP is an advocacy group, and they also provide military families with the information they need to help their kids. They cover areas such as regulations, laws, and community support. STOMP also offers workshops on topics like working with the IEP and IFSP teams.
The DoD Special Needs Toolkit is a 110-page workbook packed full of useful information for military families with special needs kids. It’s downloadable at the link above. It’s divided into seven modules, each with resources, tools, and sample letters that parents can use as templates. You’ll find info on your TRICARE health benefits, special ed, advocacy, and family transitions. STOMP, EFMP, and a couple of other organizations developed it.