Tag Archives: special needs

Some are All Talk…We’re Not!

Girl-with-Yellow-Ribbon“Our Association’s highest priority is to fight for military families. We fight to protect the programs and services that allow them to meet the challenges of military life and maintain readiness. Our Nation’s leaders cannot ignore the promises they made to those currently serving as they prepare to shape the force of the future.”

Each year, the National Military Family Association develops our Legislative and Policy Priorities list. We don’t do it in a vacuum. We incorporate the concerns we’ve heard from military families. We listen to what our volunteers are telling us from the field. We look at gaps in legislation that has already been passed. We dust off some issues that we’ve promoted for years. We beat the drum on the need for sustaining the programs military families use that work. We seek advice from our Board of Governors and other experts.

This year we paid special attention to the uproar on social media when the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for retired pay was reduced by one percent, as well as when military families were impacted by sequestration and the government shutdown. We heard you loud and clear! Our military families and their service members never fail to answer the call. In return, our government has promised to provide them with the resources to keep them ready. You asked Congress to #KeepYourPromise, and in our priorities, we ask Congress and Department of Defense (DoD) to do just that.

We ask Congress and DoD to guarantee, and sustain, the resources necessary to safeguard the readiness of military families. Like protecting the commissaries, where savings are such an important part of compensation. And ensuring access to high quality health care and preventive health care services. Our families are still healing from over a decade of war – they need medical and non-medical counseling readily available. Our kids have served, too – make sure the schools they go to thrive with help from Impact Aid and DoD grants and supplemental aid. Although the wars are winding down, don’t forget the wounded and their caregivers, who still face the uncertainties of their recoveries or the new realities they must deal with as a family.

There are some areas where the readiness of our military families can be improved and refined. We need more forward motion on standardizing programs for families with special needs across the Services. Enhance the spread of information about tools to help military spouses with education and employment. Some families need to be better equipped to react to the stresses of military life that can result in domestic abuse, child abuse and neglect, and sexual assault. Help them negotiate the confusion of installation, State and Federal agencies. Our survivors need to be able to receive all the benefits they are entitled to – end the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset to Survivor Benefit Plan. And how can we better prepare those families who are facing an end to their military service, through their choice or the government’s, while they are still serving? How do we help them negotiate a successful transition to civilian life?

I’ve just given you a quick overview of our priorities’ statement – the Association Legislative and Policy Priorities for for 2014. It gives us a starting point. By no means do we limit our advocacy to these few issues. We expand on it for our statement to the Armed Services Committees. We refine it when necessary to shine a light on a specific issue or policy. Read it over and let us know what you think. And please know that we are always ready to address issues affecting military families as they arise. We fight for you and for all military families.

What would you tell Congress and DoD are most important? What’s your military family story about one of the issues we’ve outlined above?

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director

Our Military Family Adoption Story

lori-brown-guest-post2Adoption within a military family is often confusing, and can leave you feeling alone on an island. How do I start? How much will it cost? Is this right for my family?

For 19 years, my husband has been active duty with the Marine Corps. We have 2 typical kids, ages 18 and 16, and we also have an exceptional family member, Hunter, who is 13 years old with special medical needs.

In September 2011, we met Hunter’s school nurse, who was in the process of adopting a special needs little girl. She introduced us to the world of foster and adoption. After quite a bit of talking to each other, and to our kids, my husband and I realized we had room in our heart, and in our home, for another child. This was the beginning of our adoption journey.

Most military families aren’t aware that no matter where they are stationed, adoption through foster care is possible – even if you are stationed OCONUS. Out-of-pocket expenses are minimal, unlike foreign adoptions which can cost more than $20,000.

Military families are strong, adaptable, and resourceful, making them perfect candidates to be foster/adoption parents. There are many county, state and foster agencies that love to work with military families, so check around your area to find an agency that works best for your family. Don’t be discouraged if some don’t work out initially.

After a few ‘false starts,’ we found a great Foster Family Agency that appreciated our experience as special needs parents. They also understood that as a military family, we have a special ‘skill set’ that some might not have. My husband and I attended multiple classes specific to foster, adoption, special medical health needs, and CPR/first aide in order to become licensed as a foster home. At the end of that, we were able to become a licensed foster family. In our hearts, we knew that we wanted to foster and adopt special needs children.

lori-brown-guest-post1

We were blessed to be matched with our daughter, Destiny, who is now three years old, shortly after becoming licensed. In her young life, Destiny has faced multiple of medical procedures with no one by her side. She was born with several birth defects, including a heart with no left ventricle.

Destiny had been in the foster care system for 17 months with six failed potential adoption matches. On paper, Destiny’s medical history is scary. When we first learned about Destiny, we asked to meet with her doctors to get some of our questions answered. After only 2 hours, my husband and I knew we could meet Destiny’s medical needs, so we moved forward with having her placed in our home.

Since Destiny came to live with us on February 1, 2012, she has made great advances developmentally, emotionally, and medically. She had many sensory issues to work through due to her lack of exposure to everyday things in the real world. Prior to Destiny being placed in our home, she had never touched carpet, tile, grass or sand – things we see and touch nearly every day.

She had two open heart surgeries before coming home to us. In July 2013, Destiny had her third surgery with us by her side the entire time, and she pulled through it with flying colors! She has a lot of fear related to abandonment, but I think she has come to realize the promise we made to her was true: we would always be by her side, and she would never have to go through any medical procedures alone. Destiny is still delayed developmentally, but has made huge strides and is now only six months behind her typical peers.

Destiny is loved and adored by our three older kids. We are very thankful we learned about adoption and fostering. Our family will most likely adopt again, but for now we are doing foster and foster respite care.

I want to encourage other military families to look into becoming foster parents or foster/adopt parents. The children within the foster care system range from newborns to age 18. There are all races, some with special needs, but a lot more with no special needs.

Even though our homes may change every few years in a military family, yours could be the ‘forever home’ that a foster child is waiting for.

lori-brown-guest-postGuest Post by Lori Brown, Marine Corps Spouse

An Advocate is Born: Affecting change for military families

Susan-Reynolds-and-son

We have all heard the phrase from William Shakespeare, “All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

A few years ago I was content with my starring role in the production of “Susan’s Military Life”. An active volunteer, educator, mentor, and friend were my starring roles. That changed when my infant son was denied healthcare coverage for a cranial reshaping helmet. I was offered a different role – the role of a lifetime – and I couldn’t pass it up.

The National Military Family Association and I were introduced in October 2011 when I was asked to be a volunteer. From there I discovered a world of advocacy that I never knew existed. The Association was working on issues ranging from education to healthcare. I fell in love and knew I was ‘home’.

In July 2012, I was invited to a conference in Washington, D.C. to tell my son’s story. In two days I had eight meetings on Capitol Hill and my performance had to be flawless. Fortunately, I had great support from the Association’s Government Relations department, as well as Kara Oakley from the Children’s Hospital Association.

The National Military Association encouraged me to use my voice to advocate for my son and all military children. I learned not to be afraid to share my story because I had a gift for speaking. You see, according to the Association, my story and my voice is powerful and should not be forgotten.

A year has passed since those meetings, and so many doors have opened because I’m a volunteer with National Military Family Association. The Association has helped me define my story and because of their support, I’m a stronger, more confident volunteer and advocate for military families.

As the saying goes, “a star is born every second.” In my case, an advocate was born and is supported by the National Military Family Association.

Susan ReynoldsBy Susan Reynolds, National Military Family Association Volunteer

The Power of Volunteering

The power of volunteeringApril 21-27 is designated as National Volunteer Week and this year’s theme is “Celebrate Service.” The National Military Family Association is celebrating our volunteers, both past and present, who have made a profound contribution to the Association and the military families we serve. Today’s post is written by a volunteer about a volunteer, and is just one highlight of the great work all our volunteers do!

“Never be afraid to ask what you can do, because even if something seems really small, it can still help,” says Susan Reynolds, a military spouse and volunteer for the National Military Family Association. This philosophy, an unshakable optimism, and a genuine desire to contribute to her community keeps Susan fighting hard for military kids and families. She is committed to making sure that military kids, especially those with special needs, get the quality medical care they need and deserve.

Susan’s initiative started when her son was diagnosed with plagiocephaly, a condition defined by an asymmetrical distortion, or flattening, of one side of the skull. Her son needed a reshaping helmet, which she was told was not covered by TRICARE. The helmets can cost up to $5,000. Luckily, she and her husband were able to pay for it out of their savings account. However, she realized that not every military family could afford to do the same. “I don’t care what your rank is, that is a lot of money to come up with right away,” Susan says.

Even worse than the cost of the treatment was the uncertainty and delay Susan faced in getting her son properly diagnosed. “I was really given the runaround from the military treatment facility about TRICARE and what his course of treatment was,” Susan explains. Her experience convinced her that TRICARE and DoD can and must do better to ensure that military kids, especially those with special needs, are getting the care they need.

Susan soon became a tireless advocate for military kids and families. She worked closely with our Association’s Government Relations Department to understand TRICARE policy and how it should be changed. She founded support groups for military families with special needs children and met with Congressional staff members and other officials to share those families’ stories. During this time, while her husband deployed to Afghanistan, Susan’s home was hit by a tornado, but she never allowed herself to be distracted from her objective: to fight for military children.

Thanks in part to Susan’s efforts, Congress included a provision in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act directing the Department of Defense to study TRICARE and its policies regarding care for kids. The provision, known as TRICARE for Kids, aims to develop and encourage health care practices addressing the specific needs of military children. “It was just so exciting to know that something I had worked on with the Association was passed,” Susan says. For her, knowing the President signed the bill that includes this provision is among her most rewarding and exciting achievements. She continues to work hard, however, to make sure that the results of the study reflect the real needs of military children and families.

To Susan, being a volunteer for the Association is her part time job. She enjoys reading, doing research, and keeping an eye on different issues happening in her local community and the greater military community. She never hesitates to talk about the Association and the people and organizations that she is involved with. She goes to key spouse meetings, to community blueprint meetings, talks to local nonprofits, and reports information associated with the military.

Susan will continue to work with the Association and to represent military families, as she wants to ensure people’s voices are being heard. She has received various awards and recognition  including one of the Air Force General’s coins. On more than one occasion, Susan was nominated as Air Force Spouse of the Year by different spouse magazines. Nevertheless, to her, knowing that she can make a difference and serve her community is the greatest reward.

Marlis Perez RiveraPosted by Marlis Perez Rivera, Volunteer with the National Military Family Association

We fight for military families: the Association’s 2013 priorities, Part 3

We fight for military families: the Association’s 2013 priorities, Part 3This is Part 3 of a series explaining the National Military Family Association’s legislative priorities for 2013. Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

Some issues affecting military families can only be taken care of through Congressional action. We see most of the work on these issues being addressed through the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets the laws and regulations for Department of Defense (DoD) and the Services to follow. The funding of this legislation comes through the House and Senate Appropriations Committees with the Defense Appropriations bill and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill.

Congress did not pass the Appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13), which began on October 1, 2012. They passed a Continuing Resolution or CR, which forced DoD to work on 2013 missions, projects, and programs with 2012 levels of funding. The current Continuing Resolution will expire March 27. While military paychecks are protected for 2013, essential services could shut down if the CR is allowed to expire. This isn’t the first year we have had the threat of a government shutdown.

Pass the NDAA FY14

This is why our first “ask” for Congress is to pass the National Defense Authorization Act for FY14 and the bills that fund this legislation by October 1 in order to eliminate the uncertainty faced by the military community.

Increase Impact Aid

If you have children attending public schools, you should be aware of how important Impact Aid funding is to local school districts that educate large numbers of military children. We’re asking Congress to increase the level of Department of Education Impact Aid funding to meet the Federal obligation to support school districts educating military children and continue to fund the DoD supplemental impact aid and grant program. Impact Aid funding has not kept pace with rising education costs.

Protect surviving spouses

Survivors of service members who have died on active duty or from a service-connected disability are unfairly penalized by having their Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuity offset by the Department of Veterans Affairs Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) payment. Under current law, survivors who are eligible for both SBP and DIC must forfeit a dollar of their SBP annuity for every dollar of DIC received. Often the offset eliminates the SBP annuity altogether. We ask Congress to end the DIC dollar for dollar offset of SBP payments for surviving spouses. For more details on this issue, visit the Survivors section on our website.

Ease transitions for the whole family

DoD does not always need Congressional approval to improve or change policies. We are asking DoD to address the informational needs of military families transitioning out of the military by expanding the opportunity for spouses to attend transition classes with service members and tailor information to address family transition issues.

Support families with special needs

It can often take DoD a long time to implement programs mandated by Congress. In the NDAA FY13, Congress charged DoD to start a pilot program to provide therapy for some families with special needs. We want DoD to implement the new pilot program to provide Applied Behavior Analysis to ALL eligible TRICARE beneficiaries.

If you have questions about our priorities for 2013 or would like to provide us with information about how these issues will affect you and your family, please leave a comment below. As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog series, we are sharing your stories, your experiences, and your suggestions to improve the quality of life for military families.

These are not the only issues we will be advocating for. When a new challenge surfaces that affects military families, we will make sure it is brought to the attention of the policymakers who can make a difference. We are listening to you and for you. We are your voice.

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director at the National Military Family Association

The year ahead for the Military Family Readiness Council

The year ahead for the Military Family Readiness CouncilLast week I attended the Congressionally-mandated Department of Defense (DoD) Military Family Readiness Council (MFRC) meeting. Our Association has been invited to have a member sit on the council since its inception in 2009.

The Council consists of senior leadership, senior spouses, and representatives from three military family organizations: Blue Star Families, American Red Cross, and our Association.The MFRC is mandated to meet at least twice a year to review military family policies and programs, monitor implementation, and evaluate the effectiveness of military family readiness programs and the activities of the Defense Department. Each February, the MFRC submits an annual report to Congress highlighting their assessments. The 2012 report will be available after it has been submitted to Congress.

During the meeting, the council members discussed the priorities for 2013. The Council will focus on these areas:

  1. Improving joint-base services. Improving family program integration of Guard and Reserve families 
  2. Coordinate efforts with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Cross Functional Teams:
    - Assess military family needs, reduce duplication, and enhance program effectiveness
    - Strengthen the force and enhance resiliency
    – Public awareness, transition gaps, and building community capacity
  3. Exceptional Family Member Program

The MFRC is just one tool that the Defense Department and the Services use to review and evaluate programs. Our Association will follow the interaction between the MFRC and the new DoD-wide Common Services Task Force.

We realize that family programs will be affected by budget cuts and decrease in deployments, but our government officials must remember that, even with a decrease in deployments, military families rely on family programs to help maintain readiness and handle the challenges they face.

Our Association will fight for those programs that are most beneficial for military families; identifying the most effective programs is an essential part of the process. Redundancies and sometimes-bloated overhead impact the most important aspect of family programs – getting military families the resources and tools they need quickly and effectively.

The National Military Family Association is proud to sit on this council and represent your concerns. We look forward to working with the MFRC and the Task Force and hope that together we can identify those programs that are contributing to the strength and resilience of military families.

If you sat on the Military Family Readiness Council, what would your top three priorities for 2013 be?

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director at the National Military Family Association

Discrimination by uniform: an update on TRICARE and ABA therapy

Discrimination by uniform: an update on TRICARE and ABA therapyFor the first time—ever—Congress is purposely excluding certain members of the Uniformed Services from receiving some health care benefits because of their Service affiliation. Shocked? So are we.

When I speak about who our Association serves, I say that we work to improve the lives of active duty, National Guard and Reserve, retired, and surviving families of members of all seven Uniformed Services. Then I ask the trivia question: “What are the seven Uniformed Services?” In most cases, people easily name the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard, but they’re often stumped on the other two: the Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Public Health Service (PHS).

Members of all seven Uniformed Services take the same oath to support our Nation, are paid using the same pay tables, go where our leaders send them, earn the same retirement benefits, and receive the same TRICARE health care coverage. But this equality in benefits for their service that is granted by law is now threatened by the very Congress we ask to protect us.

A little background. Many military families with an autistic child, as well as some with other disabilities, have seen improvement when the child has access to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. Because TRICARE has provided ABA therapy under the ECHO Program, which is open to active duty families only and has an annual cap on costs, many military families have asked Congress to make it a covered TRICARE benefit to remove the cap and be available to retirees as well. They’ve encountered resistance for several reasons, most notably the cost.

The House’s version

In May, the House of Representatives added a provision to its version of the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would make ABA therapy a TRICARE benefit for patients with an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis. Normally, when a benefit is added to TRICARE, it applies to everyone that qualifies medically. In this case, however, the House decided it was acceptable to specifically exclude all  families of three Uniformed Services: the Coast Guard, NOAA, and PHS—a first.

The Senate’s version

On December 4, the Senate approved its version of the NDAA, which also contains a provision adding ABA therapy as a TRICARE benefit. At the request of our Association and others, the Senate provision opens up the therapy to anyone whose doctor believes would be helped. In response to our concerns about the House excluding three of the seven Uniformed Services from the benefit, the Senate included coverage for all active duty Coast Guard, NOAA, and PHS family members. But, it still specifically excludes retiree families of those Service branches.

What’s Needed

I don’t want to diminish the importance of this new TRICARE benefit. I’m glad Members of Congress have recognized the burden military families with a child needing ABA therapy face in finding and paying for the treatment. However, our Association is deeply concerned about the precedent this action by both Houses of Congress sets—and thinks that every military family should be as well.

Members of Congress have a chance to fix this inequity as they meet to create the final version of the NDAA. They must ensure eligibility for TRICARE benefits is determined by the medical needs of the patient, not the type of uniform their service member wears or wore.

How do you feel about these exclusions in the proposed NDAA?

Joyce RaezerPosted by Joyce Raezer, Executive Director at the
National Military Family Association