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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Sept. 29, 2021

Members: enrollment in the Special Needs Program can benefit your family and make your PCS process easier

By By Keisha Reynolds, MyCG Writer

Suppose you just received your permanent change of duty (PCS) station assignment to a remote location. After doing a bit of research, you realize that the medical accommodations you need for your spouse or child are nowhere in sight. The Coast Guard’s Special Needs Program exists so that this scenario doesn’t happen to you and your family while PCSing. 

It is up to you to initiate enrollment, however, it is mandatory for all active duty and selected reserve members on orders for 181 days or more, who have dependent family members with special needs. Specifically, family diagnosed with medical, psychological, physical, or educational special needs should enroll in the Special Needs Program. Enrollment updates occur every three years, or when the condition changes and deadlines are individually based. Sue Carter, Special Needs Program manager, explained that ultimately, “A medical officer will determine if members are eligible for enrollment.”

Carter summarizes the program by stating, “It really is a risk mitigation program to support members, their families, and the Coast Guard.” said Carter. “It prevents placing Coast Guard members and their family members in a situation where they must travel great distances to access care or services, or worse yet, where there are no providers available at all. Enrollment supports members and their families while they are all contributing to the success of the Coast Guard.” 

Once you are enrolled in the program, your assignment officer will verify that providers are available to meet the needs of your family members within pre-established guidelines like distance by category. Members preparing for reassignments should work with their Family Resource Specialist (FRS) while building e-resumes to verify the suitability of a location.

Carter gave examples of additional benefits of enrolling in the Special Needs Program. For instance, the TRICARE Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) can only be accessed by those enrolled in the Special Needs Program. ECHO benefits include services such as the applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy and special equipment.  Additionally, when enrolled, Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (CGMA) provides funding such as short-term respite care for Special Needs enrollees and DEERs-enrolled family members that live with the Coast Guard member. 

All of the information provided throughout the enrollment process for the Special Needs Program is protected by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and privacy laws. 

There is whole host of support services the program can provide to members and their families. Members and their families can reach out to their servicing regional Work Life Office and FRS for more detailed information. Please refer to the Coast Guard Special Needs Program Enrollment Reminder ALCOAST 271/21 for additional guidance.