Unique challenges for veteran families with special needs children
Veterans with children who have special needs are likely to face unique challenges accessing comprehensive health care. This is primarily due to limitations in VA health care services and living in remote areas of the country where there are fewer specialized treatment centers.
VA health care: Finding a health care provider
Although the VA health care provides free and low-cost medical services to eligible veterans and their families, there are some notable gaps in care. This is especially true for families raising children living with permanent disabilities like cerebral palsy and other special needs.
The 2019 MISSION Act allowed veterans increased access to non-VA health care providers. However, strict wait periods and geographic requirements may make it harder for some families to take advantage of these benefits.
Access to resources: Living in remote areas
According to U.S. News & World Report, some of the country’s more remote (far away or isolated in some way) states have the highest share of veterans.
- Alaska (11%)
- Virginia (9.7%)
- Montana (9.4%)
- Wyoming (9.2%)
- Maine (8.8%)
Veteran families who live in more isolated areas may have to travel long distances to health care centers and providers that specialize in their child's condition. These geographic distances could make it harder for families to travel to the best facilities for their child.
Thankfully, the VA offers many other resources to help veterans and their families bridge these gaps.
VA benefits for families with special needs
For many children with disabilities, care will be required throughout their life. This means that you should have a plan for them that extends well into adulthood and beyond your own passing.
Veterans benefits may be available to help you care for your child right now as well as after you have passed away. While thinking about this scenario is uncomfortable, it is important to plan ahead and explore all available resources that your surviving family may be able to access in the future.
Here are some VA benefits that may apply to you and your family.
Dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC)
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is money paid monthly by the federal government to a spouse, child, or parent of a military service member who died in the line of duty or a veteran whose death resulted from a service-related injury or disease.
VA health care benefits
Depending on their age, your child may qualify for several health care benefit options for spouses, dependents, and survivors of military veterans.
- The Camp Lejeune Family Member Program: Your child may be entitled to health care benefits if they lived with you at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) in North Carolina for at least 30 days from August 1953 through December 1987. Download the Camp Lejeune Family Member Program Application (VA Form 10-10068) now.
- Children of Women Vietnam Veterans (CWVV) Health Care Benefits Program: If you are a woman with a biological child who was conceived after you served in Vietnam between February 28, 1961, and May 7, 1975, your child may be entitled to health care benefits. To qualify, your child must have a covered birth defect as determined by the VA.
- Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA): If you are a disabled veteran, your child may be able to get CHAMPVA health insurance. Check your child’s CHAMPVA benefits and apply here.
- The Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program: If your biological child has spina bifida and you served in the Korean or Vietnam War, they may have special benefits. Find out if your child may qualify and how to apply.
- TRICARE: After you pass away, your child may qualify for this insurance program offered by the Department of Defense. Read about TRICARE eligibility.
A VA Survivors Pension may be available to your child if they cannot care for themselves due to a disability that developed before they were 18 years old. The pension offers monthly payments to your surviving children if you are a veteran who meets certain income and net worth limits. Learn more about your child’s Survivors Pension eligibility.
Other VA benefits
Many veterans focus primarily on health care benefits or Survivors Pensions for their children. However, it is important to remember that the VA offers many other benefits, including education, job support, home loans, and life insurance plans.
- Personalized Career Planning and Guidance: Also known as Chapter 36, this can help with job training, employment, resume development, and job-hunting for eligible dependents, including children of veterans. Check your child’s Chapter 36 eligibility.
- Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33): These benefits help pay for school or job training for anyone who served on active duty after September 10, 2001. You can transfer all 36 months or a portion to a spouse or child if you are a qualified service member. Find out how to transfer your Post-9/11 benefits.
- VA Education Benefits (Chapter 35): Dependents and survivors may qualify for education benefits to help pay for school and job training. Learn more about Chapter 35 benefits to see if your child may be eligible.
- VA Home Loan Programs: Your spouse may be eligible to access funds after your passing to buy, build, or adapt a home that is accessible to your child with disabilities. Learn more about home loans and financial counseling for your spouse.
- VA Life Insurance: Purchasing life insurance can be an excellent way to ensure your child is cared for after your passing. Read about VA life insurance options and eligibility.
Financial assistance for raising a child with a disability
Your child’s disability may require lifelong specialized care that can be expensive and sometimes unexpected. These costs can add up quickly, and parents may need to leave their jobs to provide care, worsening the family's financial stress.
The cost to raise a child with autism is estimated to be $1.4 million. This figure soars to $2.3 million for children with severe intellectual disabilities.
Thankfully, financial support is available. In addition to the many VA benefits that may be available to help with the costs of raising your child, there are several non-military options you can pursue.
Two financial assistance options you may be able to access include:
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI): Low-income families may be eligible to receive monthly SSI payments if their child has a qualifying disability. Check your SSI eligibility for 2023.
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): This federal program provides low-income families with financial aid and other support services. Learn more about TANF eligibility.
Additionally, you may be eligible for grants from nonprofit organizations and some government programs. Grant terms may vary, but unlike loans, they usually do not need to be paid back.
Accessing funds through a grant may take research, but the funds are out there and can be well worth your time to find. They are sometimes condition-specific but may also be offered to children with any disability.
Resources for understanding your child’s disability
Understanding your child's disability is crucial. This will allow you to make informed decisions about their health care needs, including treatment and interventions. It will also enable you to advocate for your child throughout their lifetime.
Perhaps most importantly, learning about your child’s disability can help you understand how they experience life, which can strengthen the bond you share.
While the internet is filled with information, it is essential that you only rely upon credible resources.
- Autism Speaks: Provides resources such as toolkits and community connections to families of children with autism spectrum disorder.
- Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR): Provides information and resources on living with disabilities, early intervention, and applicable laws, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
- Family Voices: Promotes quality health care for children with special needs and serves as a trusted resource on health care.
- The Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN): Offers information and services for parents such as training, workshops, a resource center, and an annual conference.
- Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA): Provides support, research, and advocacy information to parents of children with learning disabilities.
- National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS): Provides information and resources specific to Down syndrome, including connections to local support.
- Parents Helping Parents (PHP): Connects parents of children with disabilities to other parents through virtual and local community support groups.
Accessing information and resources for a child with special needs is important for all families. However, veterans may have additional challenges that civilians may not face.
Mental health resources for veterans
Managing mental health is crucial for all parents and caregivers raising a child with special needs. It can be especially important for veterans who may already face service-related mental health conditions.
“Studies indicate that 44% to 72% [of veterans] experience high levels of stress during transition from military to civilian life.”
Here are some ways to get help from the VA:
- Access VA mental health services.
- Learn about managing anxiety as a veteran.
- Take the VA’s depression screening assessment.
Managing stress can be challenging, but you are not alone.
Importance of planning for veteran families with special needs children
Veterans may already be familiar with the many benefits available to their families through the VA. However, if you’re the parent of someone with a disability, you should know how to access these support resources both now and well into the future to ensure your child can thrive.
One of the most important things you can do as a veteran with a child who has special needs is to put a plan in place. And the best place to start is to access every applicable benefit you have earned from your brave service and sacrifice.