Posts Tagged Family Support
Guest blogger Air Force Maj. Nicholas Sabula is a communication plans officer at the Defense Media Activity. He was selected to a 10-member panel as part of the Defense Department’s Exceptional Family Member Program. He has a son with autism and, off-duty, is an advocate for military families dealing with autism.�
By Air Force Maj. Nicholas Sabula
Defense Media Activity
Recently I had the opportunity to serve on a Defense Department advisory panel dealing with special needs issues across the military.
The panel’s meeting last month in Alexandria, Va., was the third of its kind conducted by DOD’s Office of Community Support for Military Families with Special Needs, or OSN, in the past year to address the Exceptional Family Member Program’s family support priorities.
The panel was comprised of family representatives from all services, including active duty and reserves, and addressed communication issues and concerns from military families. The event was chaired by Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy Charles E. Milam.
As the father of three boys, one with autism, I took my role in the process very seriously. In reaching out for input from families through networking, meet-ups and even an unofficial online survey, I found myself not only serving not only as the Air Force representative, but also as a joint representative to all our families.
EFMP impacts a lot of families, with enrollment mandatory for active duty families with a special need. As of December, total EFMP service member enrollment was projected at 93,706 with numbers of EFMP family members estimated at 126,153 across services.
The program becomes especially important when planning and making a permanent change of station move. Some families need support before the move to determine if services are available for their particular special needs. Some find that they need family support assistance to navigate the system when they arrive at a new duty station. Contacts must be made with new school staff, to locate medical providers and work with a variety of offices to support providers on or off the installation.
During previous panels, we presented families’ frustrations with accessing information and services and confusion about policy since each service implements a slightly different program. Lack of standardization and consistency at different installations were top priorities. The panel listed as its three key areas for improvement consistency of support, communication and health care.
What I found is that much of the work our panel initially identified and advocated for a year ago was taken to heart by leadership and we are seeing results. OSN recently completed the first phase of an analysis aimed at standardizing service support for special needs families across DOD. The analysis used a series of site visits to installation-level, headquarters-level and any centralized locations dealing with personnel, family support and assignment processes. The culminating activity was a review by the services to look at enrollment and identification; assignment coordination; overseas family travel; and family support.
Ultimately, the outcome is to consolidate these processes and make it easier for families to maintain support from location to location. Simple things like common forms, databases talking to each other, more user-friendly websites to help families as they transition from one location to another, accessibility of information to understand how to obtain care and support from available resources were all presented.
A TRICARE representative spoke about the health care management activity’s efforts to improve communication with families and collaboration with OSN, such as simplifying online navigation. The representative discussed TRICARE’s Patient Centered Medical Home, which the services are implementing and eventually will address many of the panel’s issues related to lack of consistency of medical providers and timely access to specialty care. It places emphasis on personal relationships, team delivery of holistic care, coordination across medical specialties and settings, and increases access to affordable care.
EFMP representatives from each service’s headquarters shared their efforts to improve communication and outreach, as well as awareness on adult-age children or spouses with special needs, respite care and other EFMP initiatives such as joint base support.
I was especially pleased to see that the services are working more closely together to build cohesion across the joint force. It might not sound like much, but as an Air Force family on an Army installation, such cohesion is important and reflects a readiness issue for the military community at large.
Perhaps the hardest part of participating in these panels has been the expectations of families after it ends. It’s hard to tell families that their concerns were presented, but won’t be fixed right now. As I’ve learned, the complexity of coordination and needed approvals at the department or service level means change typically gets accomplished at one speed: glacial.
Despite more work to be done, military families like mine with special needs should see some direct benefits from the recommendations brought forth through this panel, indicating the importance DOD is putting on listening to families’ concerns and working to act on their issues.
There’s still going to challenges with support and services in the short term, but the ball is rolling on lasting improvements to make things better for all our families.
By Lisa Daniel
Sept. 8, 2012
With the anniversary of 9/11 upon us, families may be considering how best to commemorate the terrorist attacks of 11 years ago.
Many installations will have remembrance ceremonies, although they likely will be on a smaller scale than for the 10-year anniversary. Regardless of whether you attend such events, how you talk to children about 9/11 is important and especially for military families, according to Dr. Stephen Cozza, associate director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.
“With military families, 9/11 is an opportunity to remind children about the meaning of deployments,” Cozza said. “I think we can get a little disconnected from the mission, and having your parent away is hard. Remembering 9/11 draws us back to understanding what we’re doing [in Afghanistan]. It’s helpful and can lend certain meaning to know the military is still involved.”
And, he added, “There is certainly pride in knowing that your parent is working to prevent this from happening again.”
Discussions with children about 9/11 should be age-appropriate and based on information the child needs and is ready for, as well as the family’s personal connection to the tragedy, Cozza said. For those closely impacted by 9/11, children can benefit by memorializing the day with drawings, crafts, or poetry, or by putting up flags or visiting grave sites, he said.
Cozza suggests limiting children’s viewing of graphic 9/11 images on television and the Internet. Replays of the event can be both confusing and distressing, he said.
But as the topic comes up, it is a good chance for parents to reframe some of what children may have heard about the terrorist attacks, and “it’s a good way for them to know they can talk with their parents about tough issues,” Cozza said.
Children can become anxious from warnings about ongoing terrorist threats, so conversations should focus on safety and preparedness, Cozza said. The anniversary is a good time to explain the increased security at military bases, airports and government buildings, along with the message that such measures keep us safe.
“We don’t want to inundate kids with information that might be frightening for them,” he said. “Our job is to listen and be understanding.”
Cozza, an advisor to Sesame Street’s Let’s Get Ready program for disaster preparedness, framed a discussion with young children this way: “There was terrorist event and that is when people do bad things to hurt people without any reason. This is the time for us to remember the people who died.”
“We never want to promise kids that bad things aren’t going to happen,” but they should know that such events are rare, Cozza said.
Children can feel empowered by being prepared, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has a website especially for kids to help them prepare for all types of emergencies at www.fema.gov/kids.
“That sense of mastery is really important to kids’ sense of emotional competence,” he said.
The website for the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress includes pages for helping children through traumatic events, as does that of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, which includes talking to children about mass shootings.
Cozza said parents should resist inclinations to avoid talking about tough topics. “It’s not that we can’t talk to children about these things, it’s finding the right ways to talk to them. In post-disaster situations, we always want to balance our understanding of risk and resilience and strength.”
By Lisa Daniel
Aug. 9, 2012
Families of wounded warriors already are benefitting from a program that started last month to make it easier for them to travel with their loved ones for medical treatment.
The Defense Department and Fisher House Foundation have teamed up to oversee the Hotels for Heroes program, which allows the American public to donate their unused hotel reward points to families of wounded warriors so that they might stay for free in hotels around the country while their family member receives medical treatment.
“The family members of our wounded heroes should never have to stress about the financial burden of travel,” David Coker, president of the Fisher House Foundation, said at a July 16 ceremony. “We are honored to help facilitate the process and are confident that the American public will help make this new program a success.”
Cindy Campbell, the foundation’s vice president for community relations and media affairs, said Aug. 7 that the program already has provided 60 nights of lodging for military families.
“We’re very fortunate in that many of the hotel chains banked a lot of points for us,” she said. “That has allowed us to go ahead and get started. And a lot of people already have donated points, but we are going to go through these quickly.”
Sadly, Campbell said, “there is a huge demand” from families who must travel to locations without one of the 57 Fisher Houses, or where they are full. The houses near large military medical centers fill up quickly.
The program’s sponsors are optimistic, given the success of its sister program, Hero Miles, that has allowed them to give away more than 30,000 plane tickets since it was created in 2003, Campbell said.
The annual need for hotel rooms “is a very substantial six-figure number,” she said, “so this is really going to help us out.”
Jessica Allen, whose husband, Army Staff Sgt. Charles Allen, is recovering from a roadside bomb, used Hero Miles to fly herself and her two daughters back and forth to her husband’s hospital bed during his recovery and rehabilitation.
“Hero Miles saved our family from a crushing expense – and gave our daughters the chance to be with their dad when he was in the hospital and learning to walk again,” Allen said at the program’s launch ceremony. “Hotels for Heroes will do something similar, and I am thankful to all the people who have and will donate their unused hotel points to benefit our military families.”
The program fills a void, Campbell said, in allowing the American public to give back. “It’s a very simple way for business travelers while they are racking up so many hotel points, to give back,” she said.
People can donate points by going to their hotel rewards club website, which has a tab for Fisher House donations.
Fisher House Foundation is best known for the network of comfort homes built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers. The Fisher Houses are donated to the military and Department of Veterans Affairs, and families can stay in the houses while a loved one is receiving treatment. Additionally, the foundation ensures that families of service men and women wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan are not burdened with unnecessary expense during a time of crisis.
By Lisa Daniel
It’s not often there is a national call to action over a matter of national security, but that is what’s happening over America’s obesity problem. Luckily, there is no shortage of resources for all of us to do our part in addressing it.
Concerns about the quick rise in obesity – some call it an epidemic — and its potential to harm military readiness are not new. Ever since 100 retired generals and admirals formed the nonprofit organization “Mission: Readiness” and released its landmark 2010 report “Too Fat to Fight” to convince Congress to mandate healthy school lunches, federal officials, at least, have known of the military imperative to reverse the fat trend. The report included the services’ assessment that 75 percent of the nation’s 17- to 24-year-olds do not qualify for military service – mostly due to obesity.
Those concerns were reiterated last month when the Bipartisan Policy Center released its report, “Lots to Lose,” which shows alarming trends not only in recruiting, but also in retention due to overweight problems. The report notes that nutrition concerns for service members and recruits factored into President Harry S. Truman’s decision to mandate the federal school lunch program. The focus then, however, was vitamin deficiencies.
In the past two years, the movement has changed from alarm bells to action as public officials, including Defense Department leaders, carry the issue from Washington to cities, towns and military installations across the country. Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama took her “Let’s Move” campaign to Philadelphia to announce locally-based public-private initiatives that include things like closing a city street to traffic to make a “safe play” place, challenging residents to a city-wide diet, bringing farmers’ markets to low-income areas and holding information campaigns about the nutritional content of foods.
DOD has made similar changes, requiring all of its schools and daycare centers to give children meals emphasizing fruits and vegetables, restrict TV and computer time, ensure daily exercise and ban sweetened drinks. Read more.
Also last week, Charles E. Milam, principal deputy assistant secretary for military community and family programs, met with military food and beverage workers for their annual workshop and directed that they ensure that dining facilities and other installation eateries give healthy choices that also fit into today’s fast-paced culture. Read more. Also, Military OneSource offers free nutrition and fitness training to service members and their families.
In promoting Let’s Move, the first lady often talks about changing American culture toward healthier living. That’s where families come in. As I talk to military spouses and other parents, most agree that one of our toughest challenges is in challenging the idea that “kid-friendly” cuisine is limited to pizza, fries and chicken nuggets. Changing the culture will mean cutting back on the all-too-easy and inexpensive drive-through meals. It will mean cooking healthy and encouraging kids to try new things – even when your child’s friends are over. Changing the culture means challenging the notion that kids need snacks for every event – soccer, Scouts, etc. – even when the event only lasts an hour. And it means asking teachers to discourage parents from bringing cupcakes in the classroom for every birthday, especially when there are 30 kids in a class. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by ldaniel in Uncategorized on July 2, 2012
By Lisa Daniel
The Defense Department is working to “fundamentally transform” the nation’s understanding of the invisible wounds of war, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has said, and nowhere is that more apparent than at the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological and Traumatic Brain Injury.
DCoE is out in front on recognizing psychological problems among service members and recently began reaching out to military members and their families through social networking.
One event, now common in military family life — that also can be largely misunderstood — is a service member’s redeployment home. Public Health Service Lt. Cmdr. Dana Lee, a licensed clinical social worker in reintegration and deployment health at DCoE in Silver Spring, Md., recently took part in a Facebook chat with families about how to give service members a smooth transition back into their home life.
People often have unrealistic views of how a redeployment will be, Lee told me in a follow-up interview. “A lot of people think of it as a series of positive events,” she said. “You’re reunited with your family and friends, you’re going back to your favorite restaurants and activities.”
But returning to the routine of home life after war also can be a “period of extended stressors,” she added. “There are expectations that come with coming back. When you’re deployed, you’re focused on mission completion. There are different routines at home.”
A lot of things happen in the months that a service member is away, Lee explained. The kids have grown and changed, maybe the house is different, there may be a new car, and the couple’s relationship may have changed. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by ldaniel in Uncategorized on June 13, 2012
By Lisa Daniel
Educators have long known that summer reading bridges the learning gap during the school break between June and September.
With that in mind, Defense Department libraries have kicked off their third annual summer reading program with a challenge to military members and their families to outpace the 10 million minutes they read last summer.
“Last year, we saw a 400 percent increase in participation across the program, and we plan to continue this trend with creative programs that connect with readers of all ages,” said Nilya Carrato, program assistant for the Navy General Library Program.
DOD’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation division is holding open registration at all of its 250 base libraries this summer, said Larra Clark, with the iRead Summer Reading Program. The program is for both children and adults and is flexible for installation libraries to “tailor it in whatever makes sense in their own community,” she said.
Under the theme, ‘Reading is So Delicious!” base libraries may have themed crafts, characters and story time programs for children, and reading challenges and book groups for teens and adults, as some examples, Clark said.
Judy Wiggins, whose husband, Air Force Staff Sgt. Lawrence Wiggins is based at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C., has taken part in the program with their two children for the past seven years. The couple’s daughter, Arielle, 11, and son, Acial, 6, have enjoyed meeting at the base library for the program each week of summer break, Wiggins said.
“With the program, the kids read more and they get prizes,” she said. “They express themselves by reading the books they really like. Through the school year, they’re busy with homework and reading [textbooks]. When summer comes, they get to choose what they like.” Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by ldaniel in Uncategorized on June 6, 2012
Guest blogger Navy Lt. Theresa Donnelly, of U.S. Pacific Command, is the owner of Hawaii Military Pets, which provides pet resources for military families. She’s offered to share her pet-related knowledge in a series of blogs for Family Matters.
By Theresa Donnelly
With the uncertainty in military families due to constant moves and deployments, our four-legged family members provide comfort and stability in stressful times. These loyal, furry companions not only help those serving our nation, but are ideal friends to anyone in need.
In fact, a growing body of research is backing up what pet lovers already know – canines provide therapeutic benefits for those suffering from life’s invisible scars.
In the U.S. Army Medical Department Journal, Canine-Assisted Therapy in Military Medicine April –June 2012, authors retired Marine Corps Col. Elspeth C. Ritchie and Army Col. Robinette J. Amaker write that the “acceptance of canines in Army medicine and in the civilian world has virtually exploded.” They are the chief clinical officer of Washington, D.C., Department of Mental Health, and the assistant chief of the Army Medical Specialist Corps and occupational therapy consultant to the Army Surgeon General, respectively.
The authors cite several examples, such as canines being used to help children cope with autism, shelter dogs trained as services dogs and therapy dogs that help soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress.
Now, there is a difference between animal-assisted therapy dogs and service dogs. In 2010, The American with Disabilities Act revised its definition of service animalsto be “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”
This regulation on service animals contains no stipulations on breed and even allows miniature horses under special circumstances. There’s no regulatory body for certifying service animals, nor can businesses ask for medical paperwork and/or an identification card for the dog. They can ask if the dog is required because of a disability and what work or task the dog has been trained to perform.
According to the American Humane Association, an animal-assisted therapy dog is designed to improve a patient’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning. Pet therapy is used in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, mental institutions and prisons. It also is used in wounded warrior clinics, and veterans’ centers.
Researchers have documented the positive benefits of animal-assisted therapy. In a 2005 study, the American Heart Association found that a 12-minute visit with a therapy dog reduced blood pressure and levels of stress hormones and eased anxiety among hospitalized heart failure patients. There have been additional studies with Alzheimer’s patients, school children in reading programs and even an ongoing study at The Department of Defense’s National Intrepid Center of Excellence where at least 100 service members have participated in the canine therapy program.
Susan Luehrs is the founder of Hawaii Fi-Do, a not-for-profit that sponsors trained therapy dogs’ visits to troops at Marine and Army Wounded Warrior battalions. Here’s how she describes the dogs’ healing effects when asked about the program.
“It’s the unconditional love of the dog that makes this all possible,” Luehrs said. “They don’t care what color you are, if you can read, if you have a missing limb — they’re just there for that touch and [the dogs] give that back.”
Many organizations provide a qualifying process for pet owners to begin therapy work. One example is Tripler Army Medical Center’s Human Animal Bond Program, which collaborates with The American Red Cross and Army Veterinary Services to screen dogs through a series of temperament and health tests to verify that they’ll make good candidates for visiting hospital patients.
The growing field of pet therapy shows that professionals are seeking alternative therapies to help patients deal with stressful circumstances. As this treatment gains acceptance, more pet owners can enjoy pet therapy as a way to bond with their pets and the people they’re helping.
If you’re interested in having your family pet become a therapy animal, ask your military veterinarian if they know of any local programs or contact a few hospitals, schools, the local Humane Society or a veterans’ center. There may be several programs to choose from for just the right fit.
Posted by ldaniel in Uncategorized on June 1, 2012
By Lisa Daniel
June 1, 2012
Our national leaders often speak of military families’ resilience, and that is something I witnessed firsthand here last week at the 18th annual Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors National Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp.
While hundreds of thousands of visitors descended on the Washington, D.C., area to commemorate our nation’s war dead, some 2,000 people crowded into a Marriott hotel here to help themselves and each other deal with the grief of losing their very own military heroes.
You might expect such a gathering to be morose, and there was an understandable amount of sadness. Most of the participants lost someone in recent years or months – a parent, spouse, sibling or child – and the deaths usually were sudden. The seminar and camps help by bringing surviving family members together in understanding and expressing their grief. Read more here.
The participants at TAPS events are called survivors, and the word is written on the red T-shirts all are given at registration. The word is more than just a way of describing the living, as you might read in an obituary; it also describes the strength and resilience of the families. When the adult participants came together in an oversized ballroom, they created a cacophony of chatter and, yes, laughter. In that room, on that day, you could not have known you were walking into a room full of grieving people.
Still, I moved delicately among participants, asking if they would like to talk about their lost loved one for publication. They all did.
“My husband was an awesome man,” Shelann Clapp, of Texas, told me. Her husband, Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Douglas Clapp, was an Iraq war veteran with 31 years of service when the helicopter he was riding in near Fort Hood crashed, killing him and six others, in 2004. A conference center is named for him at Red River Army Depot, Ala.
In the early days, Clapp said, she would put on sunglasses to hide the tears as she cried her way through traffic to work each day. She and her husband had commuted together. But on this day, at the TAPS seminar, Clapp, wearing a button with a picture of her husband as a much younger man in Army fatigues, smiled broadly as she spoke of him. “He left a legacy for us,” she said.
Like other survivors, Clapp wished everyone could have known the person she loved. “We all want to create pictures of what that person was like.”
The wound was fresher for Bob and Kitty Conant, whose son, John, died from an undiagnosed heart condition in 2008. The Conants traveled to Washington from California to attend the seminar and serve as mentors to other grieving families.
Like all the families, their loss was devastating. Army Sgt. John Conant was a combat medic who had deployed three times. Two days before his heart stopped, he was cleared to go again. He had been battling post-traumatic stress, but seemed to have turned a corner and was reconnecting with his family in the months leading up to his death.
“Let me tell you a funny story about John,” Bob Conant said last week. He proceeded to tell me about the time his son, in a burst of anger fueled by post-traumatic stress, got into his car, threw the gear shifter into reverse, and floored the gas pedal to leave his home — but he forgot to raise the garage door. “It landed in the street!” his father said, laughing.
With strong religious faith, the Conants now are in a place where they can laugh at memories of their son. Other families are in different places in their grief. But one thing they no doubt all would like is to carry on the memory of their loved ones, all lost too soon. Read more here.
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
Ask people what their all-time favorite family vacation has been and chances are good national parks will be in most of the answers. I don’t have any science to back that up, but I have been struck by the number of people who recollect their best memories of family bonding in places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon.
Somehow, even traveling for hours in a cramped car with cranky kids seems to vanish from the memories of those who have experienced America’s most magnificent places. From the peaks of Alaska’s Denali to the lowlands of Florida’s Everglades, the National Park Service’s 397 national parks and many thousands of historical and archaeological sites and wetlands were each brought into the federal system because they are the best of the best – those places deemed worthy of protecting for everyone to see.
That’s exactly what Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had in mind when he announced yesterday that the $80 annual pass for all the national parks and public lands will be waived for active-duty military members and their dependents, starting May 19, Armed Forces Day.
Salazar said he hopes military members and their families will visit the parks and public lands for fun, rest and relaxation, family bonding, and to experience those places America holds dear. As the Interior secretary said, these are “the very places they not only defend, but that they own.”
The World War II generation had a close connection to the parks, National Park Service Director John Jarvis said, because some military training was done there – such as when the 10th Mountain Division trained on Mount Ranier in Washington – and some places were reserved for a time only for returning service members and their families. Also, the federal government then made a push to improve the parks and add infrastructure for the returning warriors.
“If you talk to folks of that generation, they came back, had kids, got in the station wagon, and did the national park tours,” Jarvis said.
Officials hope today’s generation of troops and families make the same connections. And with national parks – 84 million acres of land and 4.5 million acres of oceans, lakes and reservoirs — in every state except Delaware, many are just a day trip, or less, away.
So, why wait? Play hooky on your Saturday chores, let the kids miss soccer practice, pry the electronics out of their hands, and hop in the SUV. Those mountain trails, battlefields, nature preserves and historic homes are just around the corner.
By Lisa Daniel
April 30, 2012
Education was front and center in Washington last week and at least two major events directly impact the education of military families’ school-age children.
First, Angela Wilson a 7th grade language arts teacher at a Defense Department school in Vicenza, Italy, spent the week in the nation’s capital representing DoD schools as one of four finalists in the annual National Teacher of the Year competition.
Wilson, accompanied by her husband, Chase, who also is a 7th grade teacher at Vicenza Middle School, shined a light on Department of Defense Education Activity schools for both their quality and also on the unique challenges of their students and teachers.
The week’s packed agenda included a ceremony with President Barack Obama at the White House, a reception at the vice president’s home at the U.S. Naval Observatory with Dr. Jill Biden – a teacher so dedicated she continues to teach three days each week while serving as “second lady” – as well as opportunities to discuss education policy with Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The teachers also participated in classes and training of their choice at the Smithsonian, and events with education-focused companies and nonprofits to advance classroom teaching. That, not to mention the discussion these best and brightest had amongst themselves and will no doubt share with their colleagues, should comfort DODEA families.
The knowledge and skills the Wilsons will bring back to the classroom is vast. But even more important, Angela Wilson told American Forces Press Service, will be her message to students that American leaders – all the way to the president – care about them and their education.
“They do value education, you can tell,” she said.
The news got even better when Duncan sent an April 24 letter to all public school superintendents – where 80 percent, or 1.2 million, of students from military families are enrolled — encouraging them to understand and respond to the needs of military students, many of whom change school districts more than a half dozen times in their parents’ military careers. Read the rest of this entry »