Tag Archives: servicemembers

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to our military families

Today is the day that many families woke up, raced to a spectacular tree and found what Santa Claus left them.

It is a day of magic, of heritage, of faith. The day has a different meaning for everyone.

Merry Christmas to all our military families. Whether you view Dec. 25 as a religious day signifying the birth of Jesus Christ, a day of presents and family, a day off, or a day with significance based upon your own religious preferences, have a great day!

For our families who are Jewish, enjoy this sixth day of Chanukah, Rosh Hodesh.

As a national holiday, today is a day for everyone to be with family and relax. Please remember that there are some of our families who don’t get that option. As military families, we answer the nation’s call; sometimes that call is during the holiday season. Please remind both our deployed service members and their families deployed on the homefront that you are thinking of them, that their sacrifice now is important and never forgotten.

In thinking of them, here are holiday messages from our Commander in Chief, Secretary of Defense, Chairman and members of the Joint Staff.

From American Military Families Autism Support — the only national organic grassroots support effort for military families, by military families — best wishes and happy holidays to you and your loved ones.

President Barak Obama and Mrs. Obama holiday message

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta holiday message

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey and Mrs. Dempsey holiday message

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Mrs. Schwartz holiday message

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno and Mrs. Odierno holiday message

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos and Mrs. Amos holiday message

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathon Greenert and Mrs. Greenert holiday message

Experiences from a DoD Advisory Panel

by Nicholas Sabula

On Sept. 27 military family members representing all services, components and disabilities convened at the Department of Defense Education Activity headquarters in Arlington, Va. The purpose was straight-forward: to discuss issues and offer up solutions to the major overarching issues of the military’s special needs community.

It’s been several weeks now since the panel and I finally had a chance to sit down and share my experience. Following the event, American Forces Press Service put out an article and gave some good insight from my fellow panel members. You can read that article here.

As a member of the panel, I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this first effort by DoD’s Office of Special Needs to bring together the array of subject matter experts from a variety of special needs environments. What I did know was that I had a lot of information to offer the group. Thanks to your actions taking the survey on special needs and the comments, I took a great deal of autism-related (and other special needs) information into the day. To see the overall survey results I passed out that day, see our resource page.

Additionally, there were 2,138 written responses from over 260 survey respondents. I haven’t posted this information due to some privacy information that needs edited out, but will make an assessment sometime in the future on it. Needless to say people were a bit surprised that I introduced 100 printed pages of your feedback. My intent all along was to bring your concerns and ideas to the table.

Going in as a military family member representing more than just me was in many ways reminiscent of the reasons I started work on the AMFAS project in 2008. It’s about supporting each other and unselfishly making a difference for all of our families. And a reminder that together we can make a difference.

Looking over 6,000 feedback posts since July 1, 2009, when the American Military Families Autism Support Facebook page launched, I saw the stories of challenges, heartbreak, anger, resiliency, and ultimately victory by our families who had to take matters into their own hands, find new avenues for getting help for their kids and not give up.

I talked with dozens of families regarding their experiences with EFMP, base support, military medicine, moving, deployments, ECHO, etc. I also talked to several people who were true battle-hardened veterans in the fight, in this war on autism over the last decade. They are true inspirations to our cause and I took their voices, their experiences with me as well as yours.

What I’ve learned along the way is that there are many consistencies with our experiences and challenges. There are also many things DoD can do better, both from an efficiencies standpoint and a care standpoint. The leaders behind this panel knew this and were forthcoming on their focus to better understand and improve the areas needing attention.

The format was such that after covering successes, the panel wasted little time in getting to the heart of the matter: challenges with EFMP. As one of many at the table, I listened intently to others as they raised concerns  and elaborated on their personal experiences of lack of services or policies that were inconsistent. What’s important here is that transparency was a big part of the process. More important is that the day was really about solutions, understanding and collaboration.

Some of the realities of change are that overall policies take substantial time and effort to take place, our budgetary environment makes it difficult to advocate for additional support resources and each service controls their respective support services. Talking with both panel members and coordinators of the event, I did get the consistent impression that everyone present wanted to make a difference and learn from the breadth of feedback that was shared during the day.

Challenges then transitioned to solutions and ultimately the day ended with a number of recommendations, such as consistency of services at each installation, taking the best aspects of each service and applying them universally, streamlining PCS move processes, improving respite care,  access to providers and a number of other items. ECHO was also a big topic. Basically, all things that have been hot button items for our community were discussed during the day.

Many of the challenges of yours I communicated were bolstered by my own experiences on this ASD path. For those of you who experienced the challenges of PCS moves, I was able to reference my family’s experience of four moves in five years and detailed issues with the assignment coordination process that I experienced.

Of particular interest to me was providing our families access to military attorneys supporting special education law, something the Marine Corps currently has. As a parent who has fought our son’s school administrators over the last year on a simple food heating issue with his special diet and had to visit an attorney to understand my rights, I relayed the story of another military family who had built up approximately $200,000 in legal fees trying to get special education services for their child.

As members of the AMFAS community, the work you have done to support our military autism community actually received praise from DoD leadership and was highlighted as a success at the end of the day. It was unexpected, but re-enforced the original intent of AMFAS in trying to work from a grassroots level, to provide support and information for all our military families without regard to special interest fundraising and work within the system to help both our families and our care providers to better understand and support our special needs.

Another panel is scheduled for March and although I’m unsure if I’ll have the opportunity to participate again, I can say it was an honor to get to carry your messages.


Input requested for DoD Special Needs Panel


By Nicholas Sabula


How would you like the chance to have your voice heard at the highest levels of DoD on items impacting our children? Would you be willing to spend a small amount of time to create a potentially large benefit for our military autism community, even our military special needs community as a whole?

If you answered yes to those two questions, then you’re exactly the person I want to hear from. I’m writing today because I need your help to make this happen through feedback.

Recently I was selected to a DoD Advisory Panel on EFMP and special needs.  On Sept. 27 in Arlington, Va., I’ll be attending the panel. I have no idea what to expect at this point, but my plan is presenting what I hope is a good sampling of data from a large representation of the military special needs community.

Our military families who have children, spouses or other dependents with special requirements encounter added stressors not everyone understands; and we all know military life is not easy in general. Let’s do something about it.

In 2008, I founded American Military Families Autism Support, a grassroots project for military families, by military families.  When I started down this road we affectionately call AMFAS, I envisioned an open, accommodating environment where all our ideas and paths have room. I saw the potential of increasing support and communication between family members and offer a pathway to increasing care for our children by ultimately improving feedback between our families and military support providers. I also understand from personal experience that many times there are significant roadblocks to care and support.

AMFAS has never been about me, but about you (and your work and inspiration will soon be putting those efforts into overdrive). It has always meant to be transparent and representative; the reason I originally called this a Web 2.0 endeavor.

I mention this because the same goes for trying to support all our families as best possible in this panel; it’s about your needs as military families dealing with special needs issues. That’s why I’m reaching out to you in this unconventional fashion. Let’s help our leaders better help us.

Over the last two years our AMFAS Facebook page has generated approximately 6,000 post feedbacks from our community. That data will be assessed, but I’d like to also hear your stories and your struggles to deliver that message as well. On Monday (Sept 12) a special needs survey will go online and will be open for two weeks. You can also go here and enter your open comments and suggestions directly before that time. You can also email me at nicholas@amfas.org. If you know other military families dealing with any special needs issues, please share this information with them.

This call for input is not limited to families with autism, but meant for all DoD special needs families.

If you have challenges, ideas or answers to the way special needs care is addressed across the military, I want to hear from you. Your stories are important. Specific examples of what was lacking or what could fix an issue would be great.

This is no time to sit on the fence. Help make special needs support processes better. Together we can make a difference.

American Military Families Autism Support Facebook page celebrates 2nd Birthday, 500K views

June 29, 2009 was an important day for military families dealing with autism.

This was the date when we created the American Military Families Autism Support Facebook page. This was just one of many new ways we were looking to keep families informed.

Starting it was a result of the challenges of launching the first website to help our families. That was due to happen in April/May 2009 time frame and was delayed by a high confluency of military-related responsibilities.
Since that time, the page has had over 510,000 views and over 4,800 post feedbacks. When you compare this to, say, Lady Gaga’s or the page of any other celebrity, those could be considered daily metrics. But there’s a stark difference here: the vast majority of our community members are military families in need of support that isn’t available.

It is encouraging to see the community grow by a few each day, as people find out about the support. This means that the word is still slowly getting out on AMFAS and we’ve had the fortune of nearing our 1,350th friend to join in. It’s not to say that there haven’t been people who decided this community wasn’t right for them; about 200 people have disliked the page after joining. But, the intent of AMFAS is not to rake up 1 million fans or be a vehicle for people who want to gossip about topics not relevant. There’s no popularity contest, no golden apple for our families if we get a ton of visitors who could care less about the impact on our families serving our country. Our intent is to provide a resource that helps out military families who are dealing with the 1-in-88 experience; the rate of autism spectrum disorder in military children.

While our core group are the families we support, we are always welcoming friends, family, acquaintances, coworkers, and supporters from the general public who want to show support for our families. These supporters can also support without necessarily having to receive the posts by simply right clicking on a feed display and selecting to hide it from view. While these are smaller parts of our total numbers and we don’t advise this, it’s OK as well for those people who do want to show their support of our families.

Suggesting to a friend or family member, especially one who hasn’t been introduced to the intricacies of what you’ve been through, could be a way to open them to better understanding your perspective.

There will be people who want to take the model we’re employing and clone it for their own personal “look at me and what I’ve done” opportunity. AMFAS was created not for personal profit, but to help all our families the way military communities should.

There will probably be an autism organizations in the future wanting to also create a military sites to show that they support military families. AMFAS members are the military families helping each other. Simply support our mission and you will be supporting these families.

For more information on how you can better support AMFAS, email info@amfas.org.

CJCS speaks to World Congress on Disabilities

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

DALLAS – The nation’s wounded warriors and veterans face extraordinary challenges in the years ahead, the military’s top officer told members of the World Congress on Disabilities gathered at the Dallas Convention Center here Nov. 19.

With 40,000 servicemembers and veterans having suffered physical wounds during service in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade, and “hundreds of thousands” suffering from post-traumatic stress, a national effort is required to repay their service, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.

“The signature wounds of these wars are different than any wounds we’ve ever had,” Mullen said, noting that medical advances and vastly improved battlefield treatment has given the combat wounded a 95 percent chance of survival.

The congress, established in 1999, brings together medical practitioners, educators, people with disabilities and caregivers to share knowledge and experiences to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.

“What I see here is an opportunity for collaboration and transparency and sharing of great ideas … you’ve absolutely got it right,” the chairman said.

Mullen said he is aware of the challenges involved with conditions from autism to brain injuries to post-traumatic stress, all of which the congress seeks to address.

“I’ve heard the term ‘disability’ as I’ve walked through here,” the chairman said. “But my focus … is on ability, not disability. My focus is on potential. My focus is on strengths, not weaknesses. And how do we make that connection? How do we lead our way to the future?”

Continue reading CJCS speaks to World Congress on Disabilities

Family Care Plan Change Addresses Custody Questions

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2010 – A recent change in Defense Department policy highlights why servicemembers and deployable civilians who also are custodial parents may want to seek legal help in arranging their children’s care during deployment.

DOD Instruction 1342.19, “Family Care Plans,” was revised in May to require such plans from troops and expeditionary civilians who have legal custody or joint custody of a minor child. The new policy requires these parents to attempt to obtain the consent of the noncustodial or adoptive parent to any family care plan that would leave the child in the custody of a third party.

“We hadn’t even required those people who were married, but had a blended family, to even consider what’s going to happen to that child when they’re [deployed]. You can’t just assume that the child will be placed with a new spouse, because you’ve got another parent in the picture,” a Pentagon legal spokesman said. “Our new policy is focused on ensuring the noncustodial biological parent is contacted, and that [deploying servicemembers and civilians] discuss arrangements with that person.”

Army Col. Shawn Shumake, director of the Pentagon’s office of legal policy, said many servicemembers may believe mistakenly that their family care plans allow them to transfer temporary custody to a child’s stepparent or grandparent during a deployment. But when another biological parent is in the picture, state courts have unanimously ruled that a parent’s custodial rights take precedence.

“If you see that there’s going to be a conflict [over custody], then you need to go into court before you deploy, and get the court to resolve any issues,” Shumake said.

While developing a family care plan, filers identify short- and long-term care providers, supply documentation of financial arrangements ensuring the self-sufficiency of family members, complete transportation arrangements and designate escorts for family members, and otherwise prove their families’ needs will be met during their absence.

Each military branch has its own regulation covering family care plans, and the services are revising those regulations to comply with the DOD instruction, Shumake said.

The instruction, originally published in 1992, initially applied only to single-parent servicemembers. Beginning in 2008, dual-military couples with children were required to file such a plan. The policy now applies to:

— Servicemembers and civilian expeditionary work force members who have legal custody or joint custody of a minor child;

— Single parents;

— Dual-service couples with dependent family members under the age of 19; and

— Servicemembers and expeditionary civilians legally responsible for others of any age who are unable to care for themselves in their absence.

The revised instruction also incorporates Section 556 of Senate Report 111-35, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, which advises the Defense Department to:

— Ensure that commanders inform servicemembers of the overriding authority of state courts to determine child custody arrangements;

— Strongly encourage servicemembers to seek legal assistance; and

— Advise servicemembers that failure to inform the noncustodial parent about the family care plan in anticipation of an absence can undermine the family care plan or even render it useless.

More than half of the 2.2 million U.S. men and women serving in the military are married, and 43.7 percent of the active duty force has at least one child. More than 1.7 million American children under the age of 18 have at least one parent in the military.

Shumake said servicemembers in such families, and their civilian counterparts, carry a dual responsibility.

“You’ve got to ensure the mission can be accomplished. But of course, we can’t have our folks deploying and leaving children unattended,” he said. “The push behind the family care plan is to get people to think about, in a logical, established way … how to take care of the children, and who they’re going to leave them with, and to come up with contingency plans.

“It’s taking care of the mission,” he continued, “but it’s also making sure you can be a good, responsible parent.”

AMFAS Update: A new year

It’s time to wish our military families a Happy New Year. In a sense.

Most Americans think in terms of the calendar year — January 1 being the start of their New Years Resolutions. However, the beginning of October marks something important for military members. This is the start of the 2011 Fiscal year, how our government funds the military. For some units it means a replenishment of funding for operational budgets that had dwindled over the last several months of the year.

This is not lost on our autism mission of military families trying to bring information and support to military families. While American Military Families Autism Support is a direct support project without regard to finances, this is a good time to conduct closeout for FY10.

It’s been awhile since the last update and a lot has happened in the last few months. How amazing the way a permanent change of station across the country with an autistic child can adjust your priorities and time lines.

For some time now we’ve been trying to get some traction and finally get the AMFAS website online. In fact, that was supposed to go up shortly after AMFAS project was established in late November 2008. Our Web design team has had a real busy year with deployments to Afghanistan and several PCS moves. Hopefully in the next month there is more time to finally get the support site finished. If you want to assist with the project in any way please send an e-mail to info@amfas.org.

While the site is delayed, the official American Military Families Autism Support Facebook page is now over 775 friends. Please invite anyone who could use support or information (or who has it) amongst our military family communities.

In February we launched the AMFAS wiki installation resource at http://amfas.org/wiki. We’ve had some friends pitch in to add local resources at the bases/posts/stations they reside at. We have a long way to go to make this complete (over 500 locations worldwide are on the site) and without all of you taking just a little time to contribute, it will be tough to help make a difference for all military families stationed worldwide. We don’t use contractors or interns to put this together, we have the support of military families to make a difference for military families.

Remember that this is your project, here only for you and needing your contribution. No matter what your thoughts are regarding diagnosis, treatment options, research, etc., we are here to share all available avenues of information, from military medical facilities to biomedical options and how Tricare applies to you. If you don’t believe in something that’s OK too. Responsibly sharing all options is important.

So goodbye FY2010. It’s time to start anew with a new budget of ideas and motivation, with new priorities on how to spend it. This is the year we make a difference.

Transitions: AMFAS SITREP

It’s been awhile since we’ve updated the update site and figured it was time to deliver what military members know as a SITREP or situation report. As many of you know there just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish what you set out to do and the AMFAS project is no exception.

Work, family, on again-off again PCS move plans and deployments have had a huge impact on being able to finally finish and get the new website online. While this is taking what seems like an eternity to field (especially after the server crash before Memorial Day), we are still maintaining our other pre-established options. Our facebook page continues to add new friends, but this is only one of the many channels we are trying to help pass information on.

So where are we going from here? Well that depends on a few factors, namely feedback, information and assistance.

Some have asked why we haven’t paid to have a site built. We actually had someone with amazing skills agree to build the site and after waiting for them to do it they backed out. Very dissapointing. Others have said we should align with a major autism organization and have the resources at our fingertips. This will never happen due to concerns over special interest and avoiding military families being used as a pawn to infer some endorsement. This is illegal for the military to do and while we are not a specific military sponsored organization, as military families we have a responsibility to try and be consistent.

This project is not about raising any money; it’s is paid out-of-pocket by military families and build exclusively by military families because of the belief in helping our own.

There are great causes like ACT Today for military families who are specifically raising money to help families make a difference and afford treatments. This is awesome! We support their efforts wholehearedly and will always promote items that specifically help our families. In fact this is where this project is unlike any others.

What we are here to do is provide all available information on all available means of support for military families dealing with autism. We will promote any and all treatment options and information on this site, not just one specific way of looking at autism care. If you are Tricare standard you have totally different processes than being Prime and going to a base for care. We want to facilitate discussion on how to get the best care, whether it’s OT, ST, ABA, biomedical, dietary, etc. By offering information and discussion, we hope better care will result, and more interaction and understanding of all options available; remember, every child is different.

One way we’re trying to accomplish this is through the base resource wiki. Unlike static websites, you can post the information and update it your self on what is available in your area. For those of you who have contributed to the base resource wiki, thank you. It will not get built by itself and if everyone takes a few minutes to help we can do it as a team. We have 500 military locations in the wiki and we need people to help fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. We welcome autism-related businesses to put their information as well.

The next steps we’ll take in getting the site online is blog, forum, main site. The blog page will have the update blog, feeds from other military families dealing with autism and options for you to post articles yourself and share in the communication. The forum is setup and the blog page is being transitioned to a new location on the server. These items should be available soon to share information until we finish the remainder of the site with the news and information categories, links and integration of all the platforms we are using.

If you have information, photos, blogs, etc you want to be a part of this project, just send a note to feedback@amfas.org and we can get you setup.