When I first learned of the NDAA, I thought it was a law that only impacted my active duty spouse. There was talk about pay raises, changes to retirement packages and other benefits like whether or not the Commissaries would remain in operation.
But what I didn’t realize is that we, as military spouses, can play a vital role in this process. We can engage our Congressional representatives and share our current challenges. They can make policy changes to improve support systems for military families like mine. As a voting constituent*, I want my elected officials to understand what is affecting my family and how this impacts our decision to continue to serve.
*You don’t have to vote in the district to share your experiences!
What is the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act)?
The NDAA, also known as the National Defense Authorization Act, was first passed in 1961. It’s an Act based on a series of laws that outline the annual budget and expenses of the U.S. Department of Defense, nuclear weapons programs of the Department of Energy and other defense-related programs. What is unique about the NDAA is that it is one of the only bills that routinely passes each year.
Partners in PROMISE closely follows the policy changes that impact the Exceptional Family Member Program families and the education of military children with disabilities.
Both the House and Senate have released their 2023 NDAA draft with 12 provisions that relate to the EFMP and special education within the military family community.
Identification/Support for Military Children with Special Needs
This year’s draft includes provisions from both the House and Senate that take aim at improving the early identification and intervention of military children who have special needs.
House (Sec. 573)
SPED Inclusion Coordinator Pilot Program will increase the budget of the Child Development Centers to support hiring workers who have expertise in Special Education. This will assist in meeting the requirements of Child Find in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The purpose of Child Find is for public schools, with the help of third-party referrals, to identify, locate and evaluate any child who may need special education. Early diagnosis leads to early intervention which ensures that students receive appropriate support services.
The Senate also included a provision for the Defense Health Agency (DHA) to provide more support to the Air Force Development and Behavioral Family Readiness Centers (DBFRC). The DBFRC currently provides virtual healthcare, teleconsultation and traveling providers to 10 Air Force bases. Once fully operational and expanded to nine more installations with DHA’s support, the Senate asks for a briefing on the efficacy of the program. The program has already decreased medical appointment wait times, improved health outcomes and allowed more military families in the Exceptional Family Member Program to transfer to locations that best support the mission. The briefing will also include an update on the development of joint criteria for the program to eventually expand to all service branches.
Advocacy Support for Parents
The House presented many provisions that would provide greater representation to military families and EFMP caregivers, create new programs that are designed to assist them in navigating the disability world and collect education data that will support military families in transitions.
For example, House Sec. 572 defines the rights of parents of children that attend Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) schools. House Sec. 578 EFMP Grant Program will support EFMP families with training and information advocacy centers on installations to assist with all disability challenges, within schools and in the community. House Sec. 575 expands the existing Advisory Panel on Community Support for Military Families with Special Needs to include membership of key stakeholders like the DHA and provide transparency through public meeting requirements.
The Senate directs a briefing as a follow-up to the GAO report, “DOD Programs and Services for Military Dependent Students with Disabilities”(GAO-22-105015) to discuss ways to improve EFMP family access to the school liaison office and other DoD Special education supports and services. In regards to the recently renewed Autism Care Demonstration Program, provisions were added to amend the parameters of the Independent Study currently being conducted to change the name and compare civilian rates to Tricare rates.
House Sec. 579A requires a study to look into ways to improve special education student transitions and examine state legislations that have passed Advanced Enrollment laws and whether the Military Interstate Childrens’ Compact Commission (MIC3) could be a strengthened vehicle system of support. The House also directed a report on how to better collect data on military students, especially those in special education, which will ultimately support all military families in their PCS transition decision-making.
Support for Schools
Every year DoD gives financial assistance in the form of Impact Aid to Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) that benefit children of military and civilian personnel. This year’s House draft increases the amount to $53 million to agencies with $22 million for those with severe disabilities. The Senate version kept the same levels as requested in the 2022 NDAA, $50 million and $20 million, with $10 million earmarked for those children with severe disabilities (CWSD).
Are you familiar with the CWSD program? The CWSD Program supports LEAs with at least two military-connected students with severe disabilities whose special education and related services costs exceed a certain threshold. These LEAs are eligible to apply for reimbursement of expenses paid to provide such children with a free and appropriate public education. The threshold depends on whether special education and related services were provided within or outside the boundaries of the child’s school district. Reimbursement includes services such as schools providing 1:1 aids, therapies and specialized transportation.
What’s Next for the 2023 NDAA?
At this time, the Senate Appropriations Bill needs to get to the floor vote. From there, both the House and Senate go into “conference” to hash out the details of the final NDAA. It’s a long, arduous process but one that has stood the test of time for over 61 years.
The 2023 NDAA contains many policies that support military families, especially those who have a child with special needs. It is wonderful to know that our voices matter. Together we can elevate the issues we face to our elected officials using storytelling and Partners in PROMISE’s survey data. Stay connected to Partners in PROMISE for updates on the NDAA process.
House Sec. 572 – Rights of parents of children attending schools operated by the DOD Education Activity
House Sec. 573 – SPED Inclusion Coordinator Pilot Program (an increase of $20 million in OMDW SAG 4GTN to support the hiring of expertise in SPED within CDCs
House Sec. 575 – Advisory Panel on Community Support for Military Families with Special Needs (Expands the panel membership with key stakeholders and provides transparency through public meeting requirements, etc)
House Sec. 576 – Certain Assistance to Local Educational Agencies that benefit dependents of military and civilian personnel ($53 million to agencies with military dependents, $22 million to those with severe disabilities. Same in Senate bill Sec 571).
House Sec. 578 – EFMP Grant Program (supports EFMP families with training and information advocacy on installations similar to parent training and information centers located in each State)
House Sec. 579A – MIC3 Improvement Act (requires a study to look into ways to improve special education student transitions and examine State Legislations that pass Advanced Enrollment and whether MIC3 could be a strengthened vehicle system of support)
House Bill Report – Directed a report on how to better collect data on military students, especially those in special education, which will ultimately support PCS transition decision-making.
Sec. 571- Certain Assistance to Local Educational Agencies that Benefit Dependents of Military and Civilian Personnel ($50M for Impact Aid with $20M for children with disabilities; $10M of that $20M is for those with severe disabilities (House Sec. 576)
Senate Bill Report: Developmental & Behavioral Family Readiness Centers (Impact of access to appropriate health care while in remote locations; DHA to support Air Force’s DBFRC in hopes of expanding throughout the entire MHA supporting all branches)
Senate Bill report: Parent stress measures under DOD Comprehensive Autism Care Demonstration Program (DHA to re-evaluate stress testing used; modify/eliminate overly intrusive questions and ensure parents that they are not required to answer objectionable questions)
Senate Sec. 750 Independent Analysis of Department of Defense Comprehensive Autism Care Demonstration Program
Senate Bill Report: EFMP School Liaison Program (Briefing: Improve EFMP family access to school liaisons and other DOD SPED supports and services; making sure families are receiving ed. services and support within the timeline mandated by IDEA after a PCS move.