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Veteran resources for families with special needs

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers benefits to service members who have children with special needs. However, many military families are unaware of these benefits and may miss out on accessing much-needed support. Some VA benefits include tax-free monthly payouts, Survivors Pensions, and free or reduced-cost health care. Private medical, financial, and emotional support resources are also available. Learn more about resources that can help you and your family.

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Unique challenges for veteran families with special needs children

A military service member in uniform kisses a child who uses a wheelchair on the forehead.

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.

The 5 states with the highest percentage of veterans are:
  • 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.

Here are some VA health care benefits available to children of veterans:

Survivors pension

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.

Your child may be able to receive other VA benefits including:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

The United Healthcare Children’s Foundation and your local Easterseals office are great places to start your search for grants.

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.

Here are some national resources you can count on for support:

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.”

— Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Here are some ways to get help from the VA:

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.

Cerebral Palsy Guide was founded upon the goal of educating families about cerebral palsy, raising awareness, and providing support for children, parents, and caregivers affected by the condition. Our easy-to-use website offers simple, straightforward information that provides families with medical and legal solutions. We are devoted to helping parents and children access the tools they need to live a life full of happiness

  1. About VA health benefits. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2022, October 12). Retrieved June 5, 2023, from https://www.va.gov/health-care/about-va-health-benefits/
  2. Gilligan, C. (2022, November 11). Who are America’s veterans? U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved June 5, 2023, from https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/2022-11-11/who-are-americas-veterans
  3. Inoue, C., Shawler, E., Jordan, C. H., & Jackson, C. A. (2023, March 28). Veteran and Military Mental Health Issues. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34283458/
  4. Owens, S. (2022, November 8). Supporting the behavioral health needs of our nation’s veterans. SAMHSA. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from https://www.samhsa.gov/blog/supporting-behavioral-health-needs-our-nations-veterans