By: Michelle Mance

Getting a new special needs diagnosis for your child can be very scary and confusing for any parent.  With a new diagnosis comes a million different questions and feelings.  What does it all mean?  What resources are available?  How is life going to change?  How will I be able to help my child?  How can I advocate for my child?

Add to these overwhelming questions and feelings the military life that we live, and you just wonder—how can I do it all?

When my daughter was first diagnosed with a severe speech delay and Autism, I didn’t know which way was up.  I didn’t know who I was supposed to talk to.  Doctors and therapists (of which there were suddenly many) were speaking this new language that I did not understand and I got very overwhelmed by it all very quickly.  Add in an upcoming ship deployment and the under ways and workups that go with it—things seemed downright impossible at times.  But then I was told about the EFMP program and things started to become a little clearer.  It was my first step in beginning to understand this new world I was now a part of.

The military life actually makes a new diagnosis for your child a little less overwhelming due to the abundance of resources that the military provides (and the many friendly faces who understand exactly what you’re going through).  The biggest of these resources is the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP).  This is a mandatory U.S. Department of Defense enrollment program that works with other military and civilian agencies to provide comprehensive and coordinated community support, housing, education, medical, and personnel services worldwide to U.S. military families with special needs.

When you enroll in EFMP, you are assigned a case manager that can help you coordinate resources and explain how everything works in this new world you’ve been thrust into.  Your case manager can help you navigate Tricare (which has many benefits as a special needs parent – therapy is expensive!!) and offer access to things like respite care and support groups that you may not otherwise know about.  Your case manager is your go-to person and provides support should you have any questions along the way or need guidance when it comes to the world of special needs in the military.

Another incredible – and new – resource to special needs military families is the JAG Corps expansion to include special education support and legal assistance and advocacy.  These attorneys will assist EFMP families with eligibility assessments, IEPs, and issues with related services (therapies).  In certain cases, they can assist with school meetings and advocate on behalf of military families in court.

One of the biggest hurdles of special needs families is finding appropriate advocates to ensure your child has everything they need to succeed.  In order to obtain these things, it sometimes takes a fight and not everyone is as well-equipped as lawyer moms or dads to advocate for themselves. The opportunity to have free access to specially trained military attorneys that can advocate for and educate our special need families is incredible and such a huge step that the military has made to benefit this sometimes-overlooked population of people.

Dealing with a new diagnosis for your child can sometimes feel like you’re climbing up a hill in the mud. It’s exhausting and difficult. But thanks to several very important programs the military has in place for its families, you don’t have to slog through the mud alone.


Michelle Mance is a Washington State barred estate planning and probate attorney, who works remotely for a small firm out of Anacortes, Washington.  Michelle is currently living in San Diego, California with her active-duty Navy husband, Jon, and their two incredible kids – Jacob (13) and Lucy (3). Michelle serves as the ombudsman for her husband’s ship which is about to finish up a nearly 9-month deployment. Outside of practicing law and raising small-ish humans, Michelle loves to crochet and is working towards opening her own firm in the very near future.