Dear Coast Guard Family: The Special Needs Program

Once a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “Dear Coast Guard Family,” a column for Coast Guard families by Coast Guard spouse Rachel Conley. Rachel is married to her high school sweetheart, Chief Warrant Officer James Conley, and is the mother of three children. Rachel passionately serves as a Coast Guard Ombudsman and advocate of Coast Guard families. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the United States Coast Guard Ombudsman of the Year Award.

The Finley family awaits the arrival of Chief Petty Officer Nathan Finley, a crew member aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Resolute, in St Petersburg, Florida, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018. The Resolute crew returned to homeport after a 59-day patrol in the Caribbean. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley J. Johnson.)

As the mother of three special needs children and an advocate for military families, I am passionate about the programs and services that support our community. I understand the unique ways that special needs families balance service to nation with medical appointments, individualized education plan meetings and therapy sessions. I understand there’s nothing more concerning than the thought of not having access to the care and services needed – thankfully, that’s what the Special Needs Program, an assignment process tool, helps protect against. Through the Special Needs Program, efforts are made to ensure that members with special needs dependents are assigned to duty stations where medical and community services are accessible and available. For this reason, enrollment in the Special Needs Program is mandatory for active duty service members, Public Health Service (PHS) officers serving with the Coast Guard, and reserve members on active duty for 181 days or more who have dependent family members diagnosed with medical, psychological, physical or educational special needs.

To Enroll or Update Enrollment:

For new enrollments and enrollment updates, the Family Member Medical Summary – DD Form 2792 (for medical, psychological and physical conditions) and/or Special Educational/Early Intervention Summary – DD Form 2792-1 (for educational needs) must be completed by the family member’s health care provider (this may be the Primary Care Manager, a specialist or a combination) and/or school personnel (this may be the principal, guidance counselor, teacher or case manager) and submitted to the servicing Work-Life Family Resource Specialist (FRS), the Special Needs Program point of contact for members and families. It is imperative that these forms describe all necessary care and services – these are the documents that will be used to screen potential assignment locations. Enrollment updates are required every three years for each family member enrolled. If an update is due at the time of a projected rotation time, your enrollment forms must be initiated at least 9 months prior to that date. Additionally, enrollment updates are required whenever there is a change in medical or mental health related diagnosis, treatment plan, a new condition develops, or if there is a change in early intervention or special education needs.

Category:

Once the enrollment document(s) has been submitted to the FRS, it will be reviewed by the Senior Medical Executive (SME) and assigned a category based on the severity of the special need and frequency of care.Categories range from one (readily treatable/mild) to five (constant, high-level attention required). The assigned category will set the parameters for any potential assignment location. For example, a category 3 requires assignment to a location that has access to a major medical area (that can meet the specific needs of the individual enrolled) within 50 miles or one-hour drive from the assigned duty station. Categories four and five are assigned based on a pre-determined list of locations – these locations are within 25 miles or 30 minutes of a major medical area. While these major medical areas are typically able to meet the majority of special needs, if you or your family member has a unique or rare condition that requires further consideration, please contact your FRS for guidance and assistance.

Creating an E-Resume:

When creating an e-resume, special needs families are encouraged to research locations based on their specific needs and category. Members and families can use the www.tricare.mil provider directory to determine if providers are available within the required mileage of the potential assignment location prior to adding that location to the e-resume. FRSs are typically not able to screen an entire list of locations from a member’s e-resume prior to submission. Depending on their caseload, they may be able to assist with some pre-screening. If members or families have questions or concerns, they should communicate openly with their FRS. Advice from an assignment officer, including how to create a realistic e-resume and what to include in the comments section, can be found here.

Assignments: (Please note, assignment decisions are made by the assignment officer and the personnel service center. Assignments are not a function of the Special Needs Program, but enrollment in the program is mandatory to ensure the most appropriate duty station location.)

When a member has a dependent enrolled in the Special Needs Program, the assignment officer is able to view the Special Needs Program category. When there are multiple family members enrolled, the highest category will be used to determine assignment location. The assignment officer will use the category to guide the assignment process:

Category 1: No assignment limitation.

Category 2-3: When the assignment officer identifies a potential assignment, they must contact the servicing FRS for verification. The FRS must then verify whether or not the proposed assignment location provides access to a major medical area capable of meeting the dependent’s specific needs within the required mileage. This is why it’s essential to ensure that your enrollment forms are up-to-date and accurately reflect all needs and services – the content of the enrollment form(s) is what the FRS will use to vet potential locations.

Category 4-5: Assignment Officers can assign duty stations off of the category four and five list of pre-determined locations without FRS approval or verification. If your family’s needs cannot be met in all of these locations, it’s very important to discuss this with your FRS prior to e-resume submission.

* Enrollment in the Special Needs Program does not preclude members from sea duty, normal sea/shore rotation, unaccompanied assignments, standing watches, performing normally assigned duties or temporary duty assignments in support of Coast Guard-wide individual augmentation or contingency response operations.

Resources:

Family Resource Specialist: The Special Needs Program provides a comprehensive, coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to community support, housing, medical, educational, and personnel services for Coast Guard families with special needs – these resources are accessed through the FRS. Your FRS also provides non-clinical case management.

*If required services cannot be accessed at your current duty station location, please notify your FRS for assistance.

Special Needs Program Website: The Special Needs Program website provides a wealth of information.

Special Needs Grant: Coast Guard Mutual Assistance provides Special Needs Grants to active duty members/families who are faced with increased financial requirements because they have dependents with special needs – including fees for specialized activities, adaptive equipment, assistive technology devices, membership fees, etc. The member must be enrolled in the Special Needs Program to utilize this resource.

Short-Term Respite Care: Coast Guard Mutual Assistance provides a Respite Care Program to eligible members and families enrolled in the Special Needs Program.

Tutor.com/military: Tutor.com for U.S. Military Families is a program that provides on-demand, online tutoring and homework help at no cost to Coast Guard members and their eligible dependents.  With live, expert tutors available 24/7, military-connected students can receive academic help at their moment of need – anywhere they have an internet connection.  This includes all core subjects and all skill levels – from grades K-12 to college and professional subjects.

Extended Care Health Option (ECHO): The TRICARE Extended Care Health Option provides supplemental services to beneficiaries with qualifying mental or physical disabilities. ECHO offers integrated services and supplies beyond those offered by your TRICARE program option (such as Prime or Select). To use ECHO, Coast Guard beneficiaries must be enrolled in the Special Needs Program (unless waived in specific situations), meet specific eligibility requirements, and register for ECHO with their regional TRICARE contractor.

TRICARE Case Management: Case Managers are usually nurses or social workers who can help patients and families navigate complex health care and support systems.

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