Blue Star Families, a national, non-profit network of military families, has a new report on the military family lifestyle.
The Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) offers support for families that have a family member with a medical or an educational need that requires special services. Similar to the 2012 survey, 18% of respondents have a family member enrolled in the EFMP. The top four conditions reported this year include: 46% with a speech or language impairment, 39% with a developmental delay, 36% with autism, and 28% with a specific learning disability.
Relocations can be particularly challenging for those who have children with special needs. While 72% felt that TRICARE provides appropriate medical care for their families, many respondents reported challenges with access to services during relocations. Sixty-eight percent of respondents struggled with finding new doctors, and 65% reported difficulty in obtaining access to respite care as they relocated. Families may also struggle when trying to obtain recommended specialty services that are not covered by TRICARE, such as applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy for children with autism. The unreimbursed costs can cause financial hardships for families. One Navy spouse described this challenge for her family when she stated, “He probably would’ve stayed in if he felt that we would not have to spend so much money out of pocket obtaining speech, occupational, and physical therapy for our son.”
If the family is also trying to access state benefits such as Medicaid, the lack of waiver portability becomes a challenge since the EFM will be moved to the bottom of the waitlist every time the family moves to a new state. Sixty-four percent of respondents reported difficulty accessing community/state-based supports, such as Medicaid waiver benefits. In addition, 55% of respondents with an EFM also reported difficulty finding adequate housing when relocating. Since families often do not know exactly where they will be living when they PCS [permanent change of station], families’ ability to plan in advance can be significantly inhibited. Finally navigating the educational system can be challenging for families with special needs children. Sixty-three percent of respondents felt supported by their local school systems. Of those with children in the DoDEA school system, 65% felt supported, while 35% percent did not feel supported. Regardless of how supported they may feel in their current schools, relocation can bring an additional set of challenges. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) describes guidelines for qualification and requires school districts to provide comparable services when a student moves, but the DoD and each state establish their own eligibility criteria. Thus, there is a variety of ways that each school district can fulfill the federal regulations, which can lead to inconsistency as a student moves from state to state or even to a new district.