Special Education Programs and Resources for Military Families

Students surrounding teacher

A wide range of programs and services are available for military family members with special needs and their caregivers. Here is a sampling of the various resources and tools available to you through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs.

Your OSEP point of contact for special education programs

Connect directly with your state’s OSEP point of contact for questions related to special education services. This list can also be useful for families planning an upcoming move to a new state. Be sure to start by contacting the customer service point of contact, who will connect you with the person who can answer your specific questions.

If you’re still not sure who to contact, you can start by contacting your local EFMP Family Support staff or reaching out to an EFMP Resources, Options and Consultations, or EFMP ROC, consultant who can point you in the right direction.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act website offers a lot of information to help students, parents, educators and service providers gain a better understanding of the act and how it applies to early intervention and school-age services in Parts C and B, respectively.

On the IDEA site, you can gather information and resources to help further guide you through special education programs, especially grant-funded free public education for students through age 21, as well as early intervention services for toddlers and infants through age 2.

Plus, you can search for specific toolkits or explore an IDEA-based resource library stored within an easily accessible online database at the IDEAs That Work website.

Blogs and webinars speak to families like yours

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Blog has stories and insights from other families with special needs who have perhaps experienced struggles and successes similar to yours. The blog also features interviews by industry specialists and policymakers and is a must-read for any caregiver of individuals with special needs.

The Military Families Learning Network also hosts regular live webinars discussing everything from finances to federal employment opportunities for the military community. For military families with special needs, they also have resources concerning early intervention strategies. Head over to the MFLN website to watch prerecorded webinars and listen to podcasts made specifically to help families like yours.

Guide helps students with disabilities transition after high school

In May 2017, OSEP updated A Transition Guide to Postsecondary Education and Employment for Students and Youth With Disabilities, which helps children with special needs and their families prepare for life after high school. In this guide, you can find transition-specific planning and services, as well as potential education and employment options for your child.

These resources are just the start of what OSEP can offer you and your child with special needs, so you can make sure they start off with every advantage and succeed in school and in life. Remember, too, that if you need help figuring out the IDEA resources or recommendations on which program is right for your child, your local EFMP Family Support staff and Military OneSource education consultants are happy to help however we can.

Special Needs Consultations

Girl kissing service member mom

The special needs consultants available through Military OneSource Exceptional Family Member Program Resources, Options and Consultations, or EFMP ROC, can answer your questions and concerns related to your child or adult family member with special needs. Consultants are professionals with master’s degrees and extensive experience in the disability field. They’re also trained in military programs. When you have your call, you can expect your consultant to:

  • Listen to what your family needs
  • Complete a needs assessment
  • Determine and evaluate what resources your family already has or has tried
  • Guide your family toward the help you need
  • Conduct three-way calls between you and TRICARE health care and arrange warm hand-offs to installation EFMP Family Support staff or other experts to assist you

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  • EFMP has enhanced support for families with special needs through ROC. EFMP ROC provides ready, one-source access to specialized resources, options and customized consultations for military families with special needs. Call or live chat at any time to schedule a specialty consultation by phone or video.
  • EFMP connects you with consultants who have subject matter expertise in education, the military health care system, TRICARE coverage, state and federal programs and more.

EFMP ROC provides extra support through three-way calls with health care and other experts.

How can special needs consultants help?

Your consultant can connect you with information, resources, services and more, including:

Special needs consultants are ready to support you. Consultations are available via phone or video session. Make an appointment 24/7 with live chat or by calling 800-342-9647.

Back-to-School Planning During COVID-19

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Current as of October 8, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, parents and students may be facing new uncertainties. Conditions across the world differ widely and continue to change rapidly. In addition, school reopening policies vary and often include instruction and scheduling options. With so many unknowns, making decisions as a parent can be difficult.

One resilience skill we have learned from life in recent months is to focus less on what we can’t control, and more on what we can. And what can we control right now? We can continue to stay informed and practice proven safety measures, and encourage our children to do the same. Evidence shows that safety measures like physical distancing, face coverings and improved hygiene such as frequent hand-washing and disinfecting commonly used surfaces reduce transmission of COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines for how to safely reopen schools. For detailed information see the following resources and check with your local school district. Your installation school liaison office can provide information and connect you to your local school district:

Back-to-school planning

If your child’s school is reopening and you want to start getting ready, here are some general tips:

  • Talk with your child. Starting school, or a new school year, can be stressful in the best of times. Make sure your child knows it’s OK to be nervous. Try these Red Cross tips for talking to kids about COVID-19 and keeping them healthy.
  • Discuss new policies and safety guidelines. First-time students may be fine with the new procedures. Returning students may need extra time and attention to get used to all the changes. Be sure to explain the need for safety measures, but try to highlight what’s exciting – like being able to see friends again and learn new things. And you can help your child build resilience by encouraging them to look at difficulties as challenges and chances for them to grow.
  • Adjust the schedule. Start to tweak your child’s daily schedule a couple of weeks before the first day of school. Making bedtimes earlier and screen times shorter can help your child develop a healthy morning routine and get ready for the new school year.
  • Check the program. If your child has an individualized education program, review services he or she will receive. Learn about any changes due to new safety guidelines, and talk with your child about them. If you are moving and your child will be attending a new school, check your child’s services there before your move. If you have questions or need backup, your installation Exceptional Family Member Program Family Support staff and special needs consultants can help you identify additional resources and tools your child can use to succeed.
  • Plan around sales. Know when the tax holiday on school supplies will be, and plan accordingly. Look for the supplies list for your child’s classes on the school’s website or ask for one at local office-supply stores. And remember, every day is a tax holiday at the commissary and exchange.
  • Discuss clothes. Chat with your child about what they want to wear before you buy it. This way, you’ll avoid purchasing and returning clothing your child won’t wear, and these small decision-making exercises can help children make larger decisions down the road.

Educational resources

Take advantage of online educational resources. Help your kids get back into a school mindset as they reinforce reading skills, learn stress-management practices, build a paper Mars helicopter or participate in youth programs online. Resources include:

  • The Morale, Welfare and Recreation Digital Library offers an amazing variety of education and entertainment resources for all ages. Programs include BookFlix, Explora Primary, Mango Languages and many more. The Teachables program offers printable activities for children pre-K through grade 6.
  • Tutor.com provides live, on-demand tutoring, test preparation and homework help in more than 100 subjects, for students in kindergarten through college.
  • Thrive is a free, online parenting-education program from a Department of Defense partnership with the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State. It offers evidence-based, positive-parenting practices for children from birth to age 18. Check out its downloadable resources for stress reduction, healthy eating and physical activities.
  • Sesame Street for Military Families offers a variety of resources including activities, games, videos and the Breathe, Think, Do wellness app.
  •  Helping Your Child Become a Reader provides tips from the U.S. Department of Education for parents of young children.
  • NASA STEM has a wide variety of science, math, engineering and technology ideas for students in kindergarten through college to encourage the next generation of explorers.
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America Virtual Club currently offers 11 programs youths can participate in via the MyFuture social platform. Programs include Digital Literacy Essentials, Media Making, Computer Science, Visual Arts and more.
  • Making School Fun at Home offers helpful tips from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for supporting learning at home for children of all ages.

Talk with an education consultant

If you would like to talk to an expert about educational concerns, Military OneSource offers free and confidential one-on-one sessions with professionals knowledgeable about education resources. Find out how to Ease Back-to-School Transitions With a Military OneSource Education Consultant.

COVID-19 continues to create challenges, and Military OneSource is here to help. Consultants are available 24/7 anywhere in the world to help you stay strong while you navigate military life. No matter what kind of questions or concerns you have, you can call us at 800-342-9647, call OCONUS or start a live chat.

Understanding of COVID-19 continues to change, so check our Coronavirus Updates for Our Military Community page. Want to find the phone number for your installation’s housing office or Military and Family Support Center? Find those and more on MilitaryINSTALLATIONS, an online information directory for military installations worldwide. For updates and information specific to your location, visit your installation’s official website. You can also follow your installation’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram platforms.

For Department of Defense updates for the military community:

Reach out for support

Military OneSource education consultants can help you ease back-to-school transitions.

COVID-19 Resources for Parents With Children With Special Needs

Military family of four playing in front of their house

Current as of Sept 30, 2020

As a military parent with a child or children with special needs, you may now face additional challenges due to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. Your daily routines have changed. Your responsibilities have increased. This can be stressful and feel overwhelming.

If you are feeling isolated, stressed and anxious, even small things can help. Take advantage of resources for information, comfort and ideas on resiliency, self-care and more.


The Department of Defense is committed to supporting military parents of children with special needs. Here are a few resources, tools and articles for you and your child as you cope with COVID-19 changes.

One day this pandemic will be behind us. Until then, don’t forget that installation EFMP Family Support and EFMP Resources, Options and Consultations special needs consultants are ready to support you. Special needs consultations are available via phone or video session. Military families can make an appointment 24/7 with live chat or by calling 800-342-9647.

Stay up to date on all the latest information on COVID-19. For Department of Defense updates for the military community regarding the virus that causes COVID-19, view the following sites:

Department of Education Q&As on providing services to children with disabilities during the coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak.

This Questions and Answers document outlines states’ responsibilities to infants, toddlers, and children with disabilities and their families, and to the staff serving these children. During an outbreak of COVID-19, local educational agencies (LEAs) and early intervention service (EIS) programs will need to collaborate with their state educational agency (SEA), Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), or local public health department, as appropriate, to address questions about how, what, and when services should be provided to children with disabilities. It does not create or confer any rights for or on any person. This Q & A document does not impose any additional requirements beyond those included in applicable law and regulations. The responses presented in this document generally constitute informal guidance representing the interpretation of the department of the applicable statutory or regulatory requirements in the context of the specific facts presented here and are not legally binding. The Q & As in this document are not intended to be a replacement for careful study of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II), and their implementing regulations. The IDEA, its implementing regulations, and other important documents related to the IDEA can be found at http://sites.ed.gov/idea. For more information on the requirements of Section 504 and Title II, and their implementing regulations, consult https://www2.ed.gov/policy/rights/guid/ocr/disabilityoverview.html.

Section A: Implementing Part B of the IDEA and Section 504 during a COVID-19 outbreak

A.1: Is an LEA required to continue to provide a free appropriate public education to students with disabilities during a school closure caused by a COVID-19 outbreak? add

A.2: Must an LEA provide special education and related services to a child with a disability who is absent for an extended period of time because the child is infected with COVID-19, while the schools remain open?add

A.3: What services must an LEA provide if a public school for children with disabilities is selectively closed due to the possibility of severe complications from a COVID-19 outbreak?add

A.4: If a child with a disability at high risk of severe medical complications is excluded from school during an outbreak of COVID-19 and the child’s school remains open, is the exclusion considered a change in educational placement subject to the protections of 34 CFR §§ 300.115 and 300.116 and 34 CFR §§ 104.35 and 104.36. add

A.5: May an IEP Team consider a distance-learning plan in a child’s IEP as a contingency plan in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak that requires the school’s closure? add

A.6: What activities other than special education and related services may and may not be provided with IDEA Part B funds both prior to and during a COVID-19 outbreak?add

IDEA Part C and COVID-19

B.1: Must a state lead agency continue to provide early intervention services to infants and toddlers with disabilities during a COVID-19 outbreak if the offices are closed? add

B.2: What should a state lead agency or EIS program provider do to provide Part C services if its offices are open, but it cannot provide services in accordance with an infant’s or toddler’s IFSP during a COVID-19 outbreak? add

B.3. What activities other than service provision may and may not be provided with IDEA Part C funds both prior to and during a potential COVID-19 outbreak? add

An Overview of Adults With Special Needs

Service member and woman in wheelchair dancing

Adults with special needs are individuals over the age of 18 who have a medical condition or disability. People in this group may include:

EFMP & Me is here

Young adult or parent with special needs in your family? Explore the range of services and supports using this personalized tool as your guide, online, 24/7.

  • A spouse with a chronic illness or an acquired disability

  • A child with a developmental disorder transitioning to adulthood

  • A family member with complex needs, who requires assistance to live on his or her own

Supporting adult family members with complex needs or sustaining your own health and well-being as a person with special needs may involve collaboration with a variety of support systems and community-based services. Assistance may include access to nonclinical case management, referrals to mental health services and public benefits, and provision of assistive technology and adaptive equipment to help with overcoming limitations.

The adult child with special needs

An adult child with special needs:

  • May receive academic services through an individualized education program, or IEP

  • May require transition support as he or she reaches the age of majority

  • May remain under guardianship or incapacitated adult status’

  • May require assistance to live on his or her own

Military resources and support

There are a number of military programs and resources available to support service members as they carry out their duties. These programs and resources include:

Equal opportunity for individuals with special needs

Civilian and military advocates who worked to bring about legal, medical and social changes to address the needs of individuals with special needs, have paved the way for improved services and resources in many areas. These groups have encouraged the passage of three important laws:

For more information about how to receive assistance, visit the Department of Health and Human Services website.

Independent living

Support for managing daily life is available to military families. Service members can receive assistance in the following ways:

To find more resources and information to support your family member with special needs:

Military OneSource special needs consultants can answer your questions and concerns about the care and education of your child or adult family member with special needs. Call us at 800-342-9647. OCONUS? Click here for calling options.

Special Education and Child Care – The Essentials

Child with Special Needs Playing

It takes a lot of involvement to make sure a family member with special needs gets the right education and care. It also requires good communication with child care providers and school administrators and teachers. How can you make sure special education or child care is working for you and your child? Here are some essentials:

Learn about child care options.

You want to find the right care for your child with special needs. The military offers quality, affordable child care with options both on installation and off. We can help you find the best fit for your child and your family. Find out more with EFMP & Me or with these resources:

Relevant Articles:

Relevant Resources:

  • MilitaryChildCare.com. This site streamlines your child care search. It lets you access options and make informed decisions about your child’s care.
  • Military Respite Care. This offers fee assistance to eligible military families through the individual service programs. It also offers a child care search as well as information on resources for military spouses who provide child care.
  • Education Directory for Children With Special Needs. This gives you information to help with assignment decisions and less stressful transitions.
  • EFMP & Me. This tool provides information and resources tailored to your needs, including a child care checklist. It’s online and available 24/7. A must-use tool for every military family with special needs members.

Find information and tips to support you – download the Special Needs Parent Tool Kit

This toolkit from the Department of Defense provides information for you and your child with special needs. Learn about early intervention services and find help during relocation. Understand educational rights granted by the Americans with Disabilities Act and much more.

Relevant Articles:

Relevant Resources:

Create your education roadmap. Get an Individual Education Program.

The first step in any special education plan is developing an Individual Education Program, or IEP. After an evaluation, an IEP becomes a roadmap you can take with you. It lays out the instruction and services to help your child succeed. The sooner you get started, the better.

Make sure your child’s IEP stays current. When you move, give a copy of the IEP to your child’s new school. Work hand-in-hand with the school to support your child’s transition and to implement the IEP. The new school’s services may not look exactly like their previous school. However, they are required to provide comparable services.

Relevant Articles:

Relevant Resources:

Call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 or live chat to schedule an appointment with a special needs consultant. Appointments are available seven days a week.

Special Needs – The Essentials

young athlete using a racing wheelchair

Special needs consultants, accessed through Military OneSource Exceptional Family Member Program Resources, Options and Consultations, or EFMP ROC, can answer your questions and concerns related to your child or adult family member with special needs. They’re also knowledgeable about the range of military programs and assistance available to you.

Person-Centered Planning

Child with special needs and guardian playing on a beach.

Person-center planning helps individuals with disabilities direct their own lives — with options to plan housing, work, finances and more. Here are some questions and answers that can help you better understand person-centered planning, how it can help and how you might fit into the process.

What is person-centered planning?

Person-centered planning:

  • Brings the individual together with a team of family, friends, neighbors, employers, community members and healthcare professionals to find out what is important to the person with the disability, now and in the future
  • Matches the wants and needs of a person with a disability to existing services, adapts existing services to better suit the person or creates new services if required
  • Gives people with disabilities and their families more control over services and the direction of their lives
  • Helps people with disabilities accomplish their goals and fit in and contribute to society in a personalized way, rather than passively accepting services based solely on their diagnosis and condition
  • Finds ways for the person with the disability to develop the skills and abilities needed to work toward achieving his or her goals and having more control in his or her life

What are the benefits of person-centered planning?

The benefits of person-centered planning:

  • Focuses on the person with the disabilities, not the planner
  • Focuses on the person’s strengths, not deficits
  • Helps alleviate isolation, stigmatizing labels, loss of opportunity and loss of hope

What are some basic planning objectives?

Person-centered planning aims to help the person with disabilities do the following:

  • Live in the community
  • Choose his or her own services and housing
  • Develop his or her own skills and interests
  • Be treated with respect
  • Find a valued social role
  • Find meaningful independent relationships

Who makes up the planning team?

  • An unbiased facilitator: Facilitators encourage brainstorming during the meeting and help identify friends, family or professionals that can help keep the plan on track.
  • Advocates: Disability service advocates can help find resources, discuss options, help with evaluating plans and services, and assist the person with the disability become a self-advocate. In some cases, this may be a person with knowledge of disability law.
  • Family members and friends: Immediate and extended family members and close friends can weigh options and help with informed decision making.

How do you build a team of advocates?

  • Exceptional Family Member Program: Your installation Exceptional Family Member Program Military Family Support Center and Military OneSource can assist with finding person-centered planning facilitators and resources. Although facilitators and related resources will most likely come with a fee, a consultation with your installation Exceptional Family Member Program or Military OneSource is free. Call 800-342-9647 to speak with a consultant and be connected to experts on a wide range of topics relevant to families with special needs including education, independent living and more.
  • State-Provided Resources: State-provided adult services specialists may be available in some states. You can search for programs and organizations providing advocacy at Disability.gov by entering “advocate” and your state.
  • University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities: A Center for Excellence is another great resource for finding person-centered planning facilitators. To locate a center in your state, visit the Administration for Community Living website.

How can you help?

The more you know about how you fit into the planning process, the more you can help meet the goals of the person with the disability. To assist with planning, it’s useful to become familiar with some of the following:

Military OneSource special needs consultants can answer your questions and concerns about the care and education of your child or adult family member with special needs. Call us at 800-342-9647.


Family boogie boarding at beach

Managing the care and services for a family member with special needs is more manageable with the right support. The goal of the Exceptional Family Member Program is to help your military family with special needs thrive in military life. EFMP is more than just one program or connection point. It’s the work of three components: identification and enrollment, assignment coordination and family support. The resources, tools and services that are available to support your journey are organized as part of the EFMP Resources, Options and Consultations, or EFMP ROC. 

If your spouse, child or other dependent family member is in need of ongoing medical or educational services, your first step is to enroll them in the Exceptional Family Member Program. Enrollment is mandatory but once enrolled, you will have access to the services, support and information you need to become your family’s best advocate.

Find out about identification and enrollment in the Exceptional Family Member Program.

As part of the EFMP Identification and Enrollment Service, medical services will work with you to coordinate identification and enrollment in the EFMP. EFMP office staff on your installation can also provide support during the enrollment process. Eligibility for the TRICARE Extended Health Care Option is also reviewed during the enrollment process.

Learn more about the program and what it provides.

Relevant Articles:

Relevant Resources:

Contact the Exceptional Family Member Program Family Support office.

To learn more about enrollment and services, reach out to your local Exceptional Family Member Program Family Support center. There is one on every installation. Exceptional Family Member Program Family Support providers play a critical role in helping your family navigate identification and enrollment and assignment coordination. The program connects you with the resources, expert consultation, education and community support you need so you can be your family’s best advocate.

Get access to services and support in the manner that works best for your family. EFMP Family Support services include:

  • Face-to-face meetings with experts on your installation

  • Virtual specialty consultations and TRICARE liaison support

  • Online information and resources on Military OneSource

  • A new digital tool – EFMP & Me – to help families directly access resources tailored to their needs

Relevant Articles:

Relevant Resources:

Plan ahead for your next assignment.

Enrollment in the Exceptional Family Member Program comes with advantages for military families. Exceptional Family Member Program Family Support providers offer information and referrals, and assist families as they navigate needed medical and educational services at their present, as well as new duty stations. While the military mission is the driving force behind the assignment process, enrollment in the Exceptional Family Member Program ensures that your family member’s special needs are considered during the assignment coordination process.

Relevant Articles:

Relevant Resources:

The Exceptional Family Member Program strives to continually enhance services and better communicate with service members and families with special needs. The program is committed to improving the experience of families and making sure their family member’s special needs are always considered.

Benefits for Families with Special Needs

Woman assists child with special needs

There are federal and state programs committed to providing additional assistance for families with special needs. As a military family, you also can count on the support of the Exceptional Family Member Program, or EFMP, and Military OneSource special needs specialty consultants.

EFMP & Me is here

Military families with special needs — Take time to explore services and supports using this personalized tool as your guide. Online, 24/7.

Special Needs Parent Toolkit

Learn about the benefits available to you and use them to take good care of your family.

Supplemental Security Income

Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is a federal program that helps to covers the basic needs for people with disabilities who have little or no income. SSI provides cash payments that can be used for food, medical and dental care, home improvements and other personal needs. To qualify, you or your family member must meet certain requirements:

  • Income and other financial resources can’t exceed the limits set for your state. However, as a military family, combat pay, hostile fire pay and imminent danger pay don’t count towards the limits. Check with your local Social Security office to learn more.
  • You must have medical evidence of a severe physical or mental impairment that limits your family member’s ability to function for a continuous period of at least 12 months.
  • If the parent is a member of the U.S. military and stationed overseas, children under 18 with special needs can receive benefits while overseas.

Check your family member’s eligibility by completing the SSA Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool and learn everything you need to know before applying.

Title V Programs

In every state, you’ll find services for children under 18 with special heath care needs, which are funded by Title V of the Social Security Act. Eligibility is determined by age, medical criteria and income. Title V programs assist with:

  • Delivery of health services: Organization and delivery of health care services that meet the emotional, social and developmental needs of children.
  • Development of health care plan: Integration of families into all aspects of developing and updating the health care plan.
  • Support for families: Assistance in finding alternatives and choices that meet the needs of your family.
  • Facilitation of professional collaboration: Assisting in the planning, implementing and valuating programs and related policies.

State Maternal and Child Health agencies maintain a toll-free hotline for information about Title V programs and providers. Check here to locate your local Title V program or call the national Title V toll-free number at 800-311-2229.

The Fair Housing Act and other housing programs

If you or someone in your family has special needs, your home may need specific modifications such as a wheelchair ramp or wider doorways to make it accessible for daily living.

The Fair Housing Act protects your family with special needs from discrimination when renting or buying property. Under this law, property owners are required to make reasonable accommodations for disabilities, as well as allowing residents to make their own modifications.

If you live in privatized housing on a military installation, your property managers are required—at no cost to you—to make reasonable accommodations that abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Families with special needs have the right to accessible housing. Your installation housing office or your Exceptional Family Member Program coordinator can help you look for affordable housing on and off the base. Visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS to find contact information.

Medicaid benefits for individuals with disabilities

Medicaid is a federal program that covers basic health and long-term care services. This benefit is available for military family members with special needs that require medical attention beyond what is available through TRICARE.

Every state has its own Medicaid program with income restrictions and criteria for eligibility. Check this site for your state to see if you qualify and for more information. You can also find more information through the Military OneSource eLearning module on government assistance


Medicare could also help provide health care coverage and save you money in the process. Children and adult children with disabilities may be eligible for services. Learn more at Medicare.gov. You can also contact your installation’s Exceptional Family Member Program office or a Military OneSource special needs consultant.

Additional government programs

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Women, Infants and Children program are designed to aid children with special needs. More information about these benefits is provided at http://www.USA.gov, an official government website search engine that links to government agencies, programs and services.