There’s no question that when a military family gets PCS orders, the blood pressure and anxiety kicks up a notch. Why wouldn’t it, the perfect list of what to do is like a long lost ancient scroll that only exists on a stone cave wall somewhere.
Do you move yourself, or let the military do it? Is it in the middle of the school year, or the summer months? Can you find a place to live, or go on base housing? Endless chaos, that can never be perfected. For some families though, the stress is even more intense, and they have to PCS with a special needs child.
With my family, we are a Marine Corp family that have been together for 11 years. My wife and I got married on 7/7/07 (fun right), and started having children a few years later. I am an Infantry Unit Leader, so much of our married life consisted of me in the field and conducting some sort of work up for deployment. Shortly after my son turned 2 (2013 timeframe), the Naval Hospital found a peach size tumor on the back side of his brain. Three brain surgeries and months later, we were in the recovery phase of his life.
Thankful to God that are son was able to be healed and able to even conduct the recovery phase, the process was still hard for the entire family (right before the tumor was found we also had our daughter). Our son was essentially a new born baby after the first brain surgery and had to learn how to talk and walk, or everything for that manner, all over again. This called for laborious hours of physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and countless MRI’s and neurology appointments.
Two years into this process, our son was also diagnosed with Autism, and also attends ABA therapy and group behavioral therapy. My wife tends to all of these therapies, most are multiple times a week, and also homeschools our son. It’s a busy life, but she manages and never complains. It took years to perfect this scheme, tons of phone calls and arguments to perfect the schedule, all around a military lifestyle.
Around 2016, I had been in the Marine Corps for 12 years and had been on the east coast for the entire duration, all around Camp Lejeune area. We knew it would come eventually, and it did. We received PCS orders and had to not only deal with the normal stress, but also figure out the best care and adjust to new hospitals for our son.
PCS With A Special Needs Child
Now that you have the background, lets get into the informational part that we learned through our PCS move. First and foremost, the medical piece is the absolutely most important when it come to a PCS with a special needs child.
- If you have a child on EFMP that has quite a bit of appointments, get a Case Manager. Our have been great, and assists with referrals, appointments, anything that we need her to. If you have a Case Manager, work with them to set you up with a new one in the location you have PCS orders to. That person will be extremely helpful with the move.
- Contact the EFMP office at your next duty station, and start working with them right away with your transition.
- Find a PCM that fits your needs. We had different PCM’s, one for our daughter and one for a son. The PCM for our son had experience with kids in therapies and Autism, and was extremely helpful. She never gives us problems with referrals, and makes our son a priority. Ask around and talk to EFMP managers to assist in this.
- Make sure your current therapist know about the move, and work with the transition piece. Don’t make it a surprise for the child, and all of a sudden there are a bunch of new therapists getting your child to redo basic goals that have already been accomplish.
- Ask current therapist to reach out and find out what therapy offices are best recommended
- Have each therapist write and basically spell out what the child has accomplished already, and what future goals they have set up for the child. There is no need to set new goals with a new therapist, the same plan should be followed at first. Any good therapist will know this.
- Design a medical record type system for each therapy the child attends. Don’t group therapies all together, as the new location may not offer all of them with one facility. We go to multiple facilities at our new duty station.
- Make sure the EFMP case worker and your medical case manager have copies of all of this and understands what you are trying to accomplish. Tell them your goals, and make it theirs.
- For major hospital visits, figure out the distance you will have to travel from your new location. We have one brain surgeon that has always seen our son on follow up and MRI’s. and it will continue that way no matter how far I have to travel. With that being said, you need to get the PCM on the same page. After the PCM agrees and sets up that referral, find the medical travel department and start finding out exactly what you need to do for those visits to be covered. We travel to UNC Chapel Hill every single year to conduct brain scans and visit with neurologists, it has never come out of our pocket because we did our homework and follow all policies correctly.
- Make copies of everything medical you have on the child. Make sure the hospital gives you copies of everything they have done. HAVE COPIES OF EVERYTHING
- Ensure your IEP is up to date, and will not run out before the PCS move is complete. The school has to follow the current IEP plan until a new meeting and IEP is agreed upon. DO NOT get bullied out of your current IEP from any school, ensure they follow the plan until they can offer up their own IEP plan that you agree upon.
- Make sure all records are kept from previous schools, and make copies. Goals, treatment, everything. Our son has a permanent VP Shunt in his head to drain spinal fluid. The school had no idea what it was and went through great lengths to make sure he was ok when they first had him in the school. If we had properly briefed them on the VP shunt, they would have known what to expect.
Lastly, ensure the new unit is tracking on what you need from them. I find that every time I go to a new unit, if I am up front and tell them everything there is to know about my son, they are always willing to help. Let them know that it is going to be difficult around the house while you figure out the new schedule. Make sure you portray that you are not going to take advantage of them, and that it will not effect you professionally. This goes a long ways, and can pay off in the end when difficult times arise in the future.
It took us a 1 1/2 years to get all for the therapies back in place, and him finally enrolled in school with the plan we want. Between waiting lists, available time spots, and new IEP’s, the process can be stressful. The key is not to panic, find help, and use all available programs and specialists to get you where you need to be. Be strong, and always put your family first.