Resources for Military Families of Children with Disabilities
Video: Military Families
Being in a military family comes with its own unique challenges. A new assignment might mean a move to a different city, state, or country. Or it might mean that one parent is going on assignment while the rest of the family stays behind. It might also be tricky to get services when you are on base or on an overseas assignment.
These transitions are often harder for families of children with disabilities or special health care needs. Between shifting schools, finding new service providers, and just getting into a new routine, these moves take some extra care.
We’ve talked with other families who’ve gone through this. By working with the military’s services, doing your own research, and getting very organized, you can make sure your child is still getting the services they need.
The Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP)
The Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) is designed to help children in military families who have unique medical or educational needs. Members of the military must sign up for EFMP if they have a child with a disability or special health care needs.
EFMP offers these 3 important services:
Screening. EFMP will review your child’s medical and educational records to decide if your family is able to get services in the program. Once approved, your child’s needs are reviewed each year to see if they have changed. If your family is going on an overseas assignment, all family members will be screened for EFMP services (including a developmental screening for children 6 years and younger).
Assignment review. EFMP will try to coordinate assignments so that your child will be able to get the services that they need. In some cases, the military’s needs might come before your family’s needs.
Family support. An EFMP case manager will work with your family to help your child get needed medical, educational, therapy, day care, and respite care. They will also manage the handoff to a new EFMP case manager if your family moves to a new assignment.
Service members are responsible for updating EFMP every 3 years or if their child’s diagnosis or needs change, whichever comes first.
Some families in EFMP may be able to get respite care paid for. This may be in your home or through a summer camp. The number of hours will depend on your child’s disability or special health care needs, and local EFMP funding.
The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) does not participate in the EFMP program. USCG members must register in the Coast Guard Special Needs Program by calling work-life staff at their nearest Integrated Support Command.
Getting a new assignment is a challenge. Many services for children with disabilities or special health care needs are offered by your state, so a new move might mean starting over. But there are things you can do to make sure your child isn’t missing the services they need.
Here are some tips from other parents:
Get in touch with your base’s relocation service. See if they can help you connect with other families at the new base, and if they can help you borrow any equipment that you need until the moving truck comes.
When you are up for a new assignment, talk to your EFMP case manager immediately. Talk about your child’s needs and the services that may or may not be available in the new location.
Do your own research too about services in the new location. EFMP can’t be as much of an expert as you are on your child’s needs – like if their recommended service provider really is the best fit or has a waitlist. There may be other service providers and support groups they don’t know about. Without your help, your EFMP case manager could recommend a location that doesn’t match your child’s needs, or turn down an assignment that could work well.
If you find that a new assignment isn’t going to have the support your child needs, bring proof of this to your EFMP caseworker. Proof could be a web printout or notes from a phone call where you learned that providers aren’t taking new patients or don’t serve your child’s needs.
EFMP will then make a recommendation to your base command about the assignment. If possible, you will get a different assignment. If not, a family member might go as a temporary duty without the rest of the family.
Getting Organized for the Move
Once you have found an assignment that does match your family’s needs, there is a lot of important work you can do before you leave to get ready and make the transition easier:
Update your child’s care notebook with the latest details from all their doctors and specialists. Learn more about care notebooks on our Organizing Medical Records page. Get a letter from your child’s doctors explaining your child’s disability or special health care needs. You might need this for air travels, schools, or other officials.
Get copies of your child’s school records and current Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan (if they have these). Update your child’s educational notebook. Ask your child’s school to send their current IEP and 504 accommodations to the new school too. If your child is due for any new testing or assessments, ask to have these done before you leave. This will make getting services in the new school much easier. See our page on transitioning between schools for more tips.
Get updates on any prescriptions for therapy, equipment, supplies, or medications before you go. Try to have a 1-month supply of any prescriptions or medical supplies to take with you. You can call TRICARE (the health insurance program for all military families) at 1-877-363-1303 to arrange an early refill.
Sign up as soon as possible for any waiver programs your child might need. Different states have different wait times and rules about getting waivers.
If you live in Texas and your child is on a waiver interest list, call the waiver program to tell them that you are leaving the state for a new assignment and plan to come back. When you move back, your child will be put back on the list using the first date they were registered (as though they never left).
For the Home and Community-Based Services (HCS) and Texas Home Living (TxHL) waivers, call 2-1-1 and ask to be connected to your Local Mental Health Authority.
For all other waivers, call the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) interest list phone line at 1-877-438-5658.
Helping Your Child Through Changes
Military families move and go through changes more often than others. With a little creativity, some of the changes might be exciting for your child and family. Here are some tips to help your child adapt to the move:
As soon as you get your new orders, start a social story with your child to help them understand what’s happening. A social story is built around an event, your child is the main character, and it uses child-friendly pictures and words. See more about social stories on our Major Life Events page. See our Assistive Devices and Adaptive Equipment page for some social stories and other useful apps.
Make a list of new, exciting things to do in the new location. Have your child help, if possible, and help them focus on the positive things about moving.
If your child thrives on a daily routine, make a picture schedule and calendar. Have your child cross off the days on the calendar with a big “X” at the same time each evening. This will help them make sense of time and see the big moving day getting closer.
Make a list of the things your child needs on a daily basis, including medication, assistive devices, or just a favorite cup or spoon. Try to have a 1-month supply of these things packed and ready.
If you will be staying in a hotel or other temporary housing after you move, try to stay overnight in a hotel before you move so your family knows what it’s like.
TRICARE is the health insurance program for all military families. Some children in military families may be able to get the TRICARE Extended Health Care Option (ECHO). ECHO gives financial help to families of children who have disabilities or special health care needs and need care that is not typically covered under TRICARE.
Some of the services that ECHO might cover include:
Military OneSource offers a confidential call center and has information online for military families on a range of issues – education and career for spouses, domestic violence, support groups for families of children with disabilities or special health care needs, getting services for children, health coaching, financial support, and more. You can call them at 1-800-342-9647.
Operation Autism offers facts and tips about children with autism in military families.
Mission STOMP is a federally-funded center that can give you training to help you advocate for your child. They offer one-on-one help, an online community of parents of children with disabilities or special health care needs, and can help you put together a local support group.