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Family Programs News
NEWS | July 23, 2009

Officials raise awareness of special needs programs

By Samantha L. Quigley American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Pentagon officials want all military families with special needs to be enrolled in the Defense Department's Exceptional Family Member program.

Though more than 90,000 military dependents are enrolled in the program, many families with special needs probably aren't enrolled, said Rebecca Posante, communication director for the Pentagon's Office of Military Community and Family Policy said.

The program requires servicemembers to identify dependents with special medical or educational needs and documents the services they require, Posante said. Reasons may vary for families who haven't enrolled, she added, but one reason is heard more than any other.

"People think it affects their career progression, but the [program] records are not in the promotional paperwork at all," she said. "We're trying to tell people, 'If we know about you ahead of time, then they'll take that into consideration and try to find an assignment that has your [specialty], but also where they can meet your needs.'"

Many servicemembers think being part of the program will limit their assignment possibilities, Posante said, when in fact, most families can go anywhere. An Exceptional Family Member Program working group is hoping to address these issues, she said.

The working group's main task since its establishment in April is a five-year campaign to raise awareness of the programs available to families with special needs and the challenges they face, Posante said. One such challenge involves state Medicaid waivers, which help special needs families cover expenses for things such as adult day care and expendable items not covered by Tricare or most other insurance.

"Each of the states has this Medicaid waiver component, but unfortunately, the waiting lists for these waivers are years long," said Isabel Hodge, Special Needs Family Support Program manager. "We're at a disadvantage as military families, because we never live in a state long enough to be able to move up the waiting list."

Many programs and resources available to special needs families are available on the Exceptional Family Member Program's Web site, which is a part of the Defense Department's Military Homefront site at: MilitaryHOMEFRONT.

It includes a downloadable tool kit for parents with children 3 and under, and a social networking feature so special needs families can share questions, concerns and information.

In addition, the "Plan My Move" Web site, also part of the Military Homefront site, offers tips for families with special needs who are preparing to move to a new duty station. Answering a few simple questions -- including "Do you have a family member with special needs?" -- will generate a calendar with helpful hints about when to accomplish specific tasks and where to look for assistance.

Defense Department officials plan to hold a joint Exceptional Family Member Program seminar with "Improving the Quality of Life for Military Families with Special Needs" as its theme in November. The training is targeted to service providers and will provide opportunities for them to explore ways to better serve military families with special needs as well as to understand some of the obstacles.