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
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.
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 email@example.com. 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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?”