Acting on Special Needs Summit objectives

  • Published
  • By Col. Donald Hickman, By Tammy Custer
  • 75th Medical Group commander, Exceptional Family Program- Family Support coordinator
A year ago Team Hill hosted its first ever Families with Special Needs Summit. Our goals last year included identifying the bureaucratic barriers that make life far more challenging than it already is for these families and providing a venue for information and resource sharing. At the end of the day we promised the families that we would indeed break down the bureaucratic barriers and make their lives less challenging. Tammy and I are pleased to report that Team Hill delivered on its promise and that we know that while we have come a long way, we have much left to do.

Speaking as parents of children with special needs, we have both personally lived through the very difficult times, at other bases, when on and off-base community support was not up to task. Last year we invited the readership of this column to imagine trying to do the simple tasks of life, like getting out of bed, getting dressed, making breakfast, going shopping, brushing your teeth or hugging your loved ones without the use of one or both arms and legs. We pushed everyone to wonder what life is like for those who cannot see or hear, or tried to imagine life with a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or autism. We reminded all that, as a community, we can be better Wingmen and make sure we learn what life is like for many of our special needs families.

In the past 12 months, the Air Force proved its commitment to special needs by placing one of 35 Air Force-wide Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) Family Support (EFMP-FS) Coordinators at Hill Air Force Base. Here at Hill, we've worked extremely hard to foster a "team" approach toward helping families with special needs obtain the resources needed to lead healthy, effective lives. It's a collaborative effort between the families, the EFMP-Medical, EFMP-Family Support, School Liaison, 360 Project and, perhaps most significantly, our off-base support agencies.

One of the keys to our success is the incredible local community support we have available. This ranges from the more than 80 local government, nonprofit and corporate agencies that support us, to the superb support of community leaders and to the thousands of neighbors in the surrounding towns.

Most importantly, in our opinions, are the efforts Team Hill has applied to educating our families on how to successfully navigate their way through the multiple and oftentimes confusing support systems. We offer tailor-made courses that instill knowledge, confidence, hope and resiliency ... qualities that will serve them well wherever they go. What we're doing here at Hill AFB in the EFMP arena has captured the attention of leaders throughout the Department of Defense. Indeed, many of our processes have been benchmarked across all the Air Force major commands. When asked why, Tammy and I answer that it's because others know we're not simply paying lip-service to our families. We listen, we observe, we plan and we act. Our families gave us 45 action items last year ... and all but three of them are resolved today.

Last year we proverbially "broke bread" with the special needs families and support agencies. On April 20, we'll come back together to affirm that we in fact delivered on the promise, and to strive to maintain that positive momentum and the partnerships we built.