Medical and Financial Support for Military Families
While all families raising children with special needs face challenges, military families often have additional hurdles to overcome. For example, these families may find themselves moving every few years. A move can be a huge source of stress for a child with a disability who thrives on stability and routine.
“Military families move, on average, every 2.5 years, every move bringing great change and the need to start anew for each member of the family.”
— Military Family Advisory Network
Below, we highlight some resources that provide military families taking care of children with disabilities — from pregnancy to birth to young adulthood — with the medical, financial, and emotional support they need to live their best lives.
VA Maternity Care Services
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) includes pregnancy-related care for women veterans in its medical benefits package.
Some of these VA maternity care services include:
- Access to LGBTQ+ veteran care coordinators
- Genetic testing
- Lactation support
- Newborn care on the date of birth plus 7 days immediately after birth
- Physical exams and lab tests
- Social work and mental health services
The VA also covers the cost of supplies such as nursing bras, maternity belts, and breast pumps.
VA Maternity Care Coordinators are available to help women navigate the different health care services they’re eligible for and connect them to care and community resources after the birth of their child. This type of support can be crucial when a baby is born with a birth injury or other health condition.
Military deployment can increase the risk of premature birth, according to the VA.
If you are an expectant mother who needs help with maternity care, contact the Women Veterans Call Center at VA-WOMEN (855-829-6636). The VA also offers an online chat feature.
VA Benefits for Children With Disabilities
Many children with disabilities need specialized care that often includes medical treatments, therapies, and adaptive devices. This care can be costly. Fortunately, a child of a veteran or active service member may qualify for one or more VA benefits.
Here are some of those VA benefits:
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC): A monthly benefit paid to eligible survivors of military service members who died in the line of duty or from a service-related disease or injury. Children must be under 18 (or 23 if they are attending school). Children over 18 may qualify as a “helpless child” if they became permanently unable to support themselves before turning 18.
TRICARE: This is the VA’s health insurance program for military families. Like other insurance carriers, TRICARE has limits on what it does and doesn’t cover. For example, it covers certain services for children with autism spectrum disorders but not learning disorders. Learn more about TRICARE benefits for individuals with special needs.
Extended Health Care Option (ECHO): Some children with physical, intellectual, or psychological disabilities may qualify for ECHO. ECHO provides financial assistance for care that is not covered under TRICARE, such as assistive devices, job training, and special education.
CHAMPVA: Children of veterans with disabilities or veterans who have died may be able to get health insurance through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) if they don’t qualify for TRICARE.
Other Government Programs for Children With Disabilities
While not military benefits, children with disabilities and/or their families may be entitled to other financial support such as:
Medicaid: This federal benefit is available for military family members with medical needs exceeding what is available under TRICARE coverage.
Medicare: Children with disabilities may be eligible for services under Medicare.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): The U.S. government provides supplemental income to people with a disability that prevents them from working.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI): This federal program helps cover basic needs like food and medical care for people with disabilities who earn little or no income.
Title V Programs: Each state offers services for children under 18 with special health care needs under Title V of the Social Security Act.
Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): This program helps low-income families pay for food. Military families may be eligible for WIC (or the WIC Overseas Program if they are stationed abroad).
Support Resources for Military Families
While medical and financial support is crucial to families who have children with special needs, it’s only one part of the puzzle. Emotional support is critical for everyone in the family.
As mentioned above, military families tend to move every few years, either within the United States or sometimes overseas
This can be especially stressful to a child with a disability who is already comfortable with their doctors, therapists, and teachers and thrives on routine. Parents may feel added pressure as they try to locate the best new specialists for their child.
Fortunately, the U.S. military has a program that can help families facing these and other concerns related to a child with a disability.
The Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) provides support to military families with children (and other family members) with special needs. For example, the EFMP helps families connect with military and community support services at a current or new assignment.
Each military branch has its own EFMP:
- Air Force Exceptional Family Member Program
- Army Exceptional Family Member Program
- Marine Corps Exceptional Family Member Program
- Navy Exceptional Family Member Program
The Coast Guard has a similar program called the Special Needs Program.
Another key resource is a Department of Defense website that offers 24/7 support to active duty military service members and their spouses, including support for parents of children with special needs.
This website, called Military OneSource, has information on special education, child care, and financial planning, plus a downloadable 110-page Special Needs Parent Toolkit that covers everything from early intervention to transition planning.
STOMP (Specialized Training of Military Parents) offers virtual workshops and webinars on topics such as special education and TRICARE and ECHO covered services.
The Center for Parent Information & Resources (CPIR) also has information on special education for military families.
Finding a Support Group
Additionally, many support groups are dedicated exclusively to military families who have members with special needs. Operation Autism and Military Special Needs Network are two such groups. Visit Operation We Are Here for a more complete list.
While the above resources are specifically for military families, you may also find information and support through national organizations that advocate for individuals with disabilities like The Arc, Easterseals, and United Cerebral Palsy.
You can also seek out other military families who are in a similar situation by joining a support group or connecting with parents at your child’s school. Parent to Parent (P2P) connects caregivers across the country for support.
One of the most important things to remember as you navigate these military support services is that you are not alone. There is a wealth of resources that your family can lean on when you need information and community. You should never be afraid to ask for help.
What Are Birth Injuries, and How Do They Occur?
In some cases, a child’s disability can be traced to a birth injury.
Birth injuries occur when a baby suffers physical harm before, during, or shortly after childbirth. There are many types of birth injuries, ranging from minor bruising to skull fractures and major brain damage.
If the injury is minor, most babies will recover in a few days or weeks without long-term effects. Unfortunately, severe physical injuries can leave a child with permanent disabilities.
Sadly, infants who are born at military hospitals are more likely to be injured than infants born in civilian hospitals in the U.S. A New York Times investigation found that babies born at military hospitals are twice as likely to suffer an injury during delivery than other infants.
When children suffer birth injuries, parents may notice them right away. Other times, a parent may not know anything is wrong until the child is a few years old. Parents who suspect that something is wrong should contact their child’s pediatrician as soon as possible.
You can also download our Free Birth Injury Guide for more information and resources that can help.