WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2002 -- Parents of children with special needs have homework to do before they move from one base to another.
That's the advice Luz Adriana Martinez gave conferees during a discussion session at the recent 4th annual Military Child Education Coalition conference in San Antonio, Texas.
Martinez knows what she's talking about because she has moved several times with her daughter, also named Luz Adriana, 13, who has mental retardation, insulin-dependent diabetes and impaired vision. Martinez is also a parent education coordinator in the Specialized Training of Military Parents office in Sierra Vista, Ariz., home of Fort Huachuca.
STOMP is a federally funded parent training and information center that assists military families who have children with special education or health needs. STOMP provides individual assistance and information about parental rights and responsibilities in obtaining special education services for their children, whether stateside or overseas.
The program was started in 1985 in Tacoma by Washington PAVE -- Parents Are Vital in Education -- and is funded through a grant from the Department of Education.
Headquartered in Tacoma, Wash., the STOMP staff are parents of children who have disabilities and have experience in raising their children in military communities and traveling with their spouses to different locations around the world.
Parents should take several steps to minimize problems for their disabled children at a new duty station, Martinez said. However, she added, the necessary steps depend on whether the child has medical or education needs or both. Using her daughter's conditions as an example, she said her family needed a combination of educational and medical assistance.
Parents should start checking on services at a new duty station as soon as they receive orders to move, Martinez emphasized. In her own case, she had to take several steps when she and her family, Army Maj. Erasmo "Tito" Martinez and daughters, Luz, and Brenda, 11, received orders to move from Fort Hood, Texas, to Fort Huachuca.
She contacted the Sierra Vista school district and told officials about her daughter's condition. Then she sent the school a copy of her daughter's individualized education plan to show what she'd been doing in school so far.
Martinez asked questions: "What do we need to do when we get there -- re-evaluate my child?" "Will you be able to offer the same services?" "What services are available in your school district for a child that has my daughter's needs?"
Satisfied with the school's responses, Martinez called the Fort Huachuca hospital to inquire about medical services. She told the hospital representatives that young Luz's doctor at Fort Hood said she needs to see a pediatrician and an endocrinologist every three months.
"Usually, military installations don't have such a level of specialties," she noted. But they said services would be available in Tucson, about 75 miles away.
She asked if the hospital dispensed such supplies as insulin and syringes for diabetics. "They said, yes, and that TRICARE has contracted with local pharmacies for reduced co-sharing payments on brand-name medication or a minimal payment on generic medicine," Martinez said.
She asked who her daughter's attending doctor would be and then called him to discuss her daughter's medical needs.
"Parents have to be proactive," said Martinez, who arrived at Fort Huachuca in June 2001. Her daughter is in seventh grade special education classes at Sierra Vista Middle School.
One of the easiest and fastest ways to get assistance is to contact STOMP before moving, Martinez noted.
"We can put newly arrived parents in contact with parents who are already at the installation who have children with special needs," she said. "We can also put you in contact with the local parent, training and information center, which all states have."
The center teaches parents how to be better advocates for their children, Martinez said. Plus, the center's staff knows about such local resources as health and human services, how to apply for supplemental security income, how to apply for Medicare and other services.
"They also know about waivers parents may be entitled to make their life a little bit better," she said.
"We don't have any staff overseas, but we work with parents ? who are overseas," Martinez noted. "We also work with military medical facilities overseas, especially the Exceptional Family Member Program."
One might think that parents of special needs children would know about most of the services available and how to take care of their children. But Martinez posed several questions. She asked, what if:
o You're overseas and your newborn has special needs?
o Your baby's premature, isn't developing and needs early medical intervention?
o The parents didn't know their child has autism until they got overseas.
o We have traumatic brain injury? A pool drowning? A car accident? Momma develops cancer?
o The child has insulin-dependent diabetes or asthma?
"We can have our regular babies, but we can develop special needs babies, too," Martinez said.
For more information, she said parents should contact the STOMP Web site at www.washingtonpave.org/stomp.html. Parents and professionals can also join STOMP's e-mail subscriber list by sending a blank e-mail to STOMPfirstname.lastname@example.org. The toll-free number for STOMP headquarters is 1-800-5PARENT.
"Anybody can call us collect from anywhere in the world, not only parents, but professionals, too," she added. The phone numbers are: Sierra Vista office, (520) 249-3775; and Fort Campbell, Ky., area regional office, (270) 640-9000.
"We'll come to the installations and do workshops," Martinez noted. "We also have a yearly conference where we have teams of parent professionals and a local school person come and learn laws, regulations and have intense training on special education."
Installation officials interested in hosting a workshop can call 1-800- 5PARENT or call collect 1-253-565-2266 (Tacoma area) from anywhere in the world.
Parents of children with special needs can also get help from such organizations as Special Needs Network, www.mfrc.calib.com/snn; Air Force Crossroads (for all services) www.afcrossroads.com; Standard Installation Topic Exchange Service, www.dmdc.osd.mil; or The National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities, nichcy.org.