The VVA Veteran® Online

2016 VVA Leadership & Education Conference, September/October 2016

Federal Laws Covering Children with Disabilities


Despite the fact that the presumptive list of conditions affecting the children of Vietnam veterans is extremely short, many veterans have children and grandchildren with disabilities. Raising a child with special needs is expensive, and not many agencies provide services. The federal government, however, has established several programs to develop the potential of such children. Every caregiver should be familiar with them.

First, however, here are four simple rules that will facilitate raising a child with special needs. Ignore them at your peril.

Overcome your fear that you may have a special needs child. Early intervention is key.

  • Decide where on your priority list the child falls. If the child is not on the first three, you will fail.
  • Do you want to be a parent or a buddy? A parent makes decisions that are not always popular.
  • Find an advocate to speak for you, someone with training, a cool head, and emotional distance.

There are laws to help children with special needs, but no one is going to come knocking on your door, begging you to participate. Usually, these programs are understaffed and underfunded. You’re going to have to fight for them.

©Michael KeatingThe most important laws are Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The first gets your child into the system and provides coverage until age nineteen. IDEA takes children from age three to twenty-two.

EPSDT is Medicaid’s child health component. It’s designed to meet the special physical, emotional, and developmental needs of low-income children. The program is summarized by its name: early periodic screening for potential health problems; screening with physical, mental, developmental, dental, hearing, and vision tests; diagnosis to follow up when risks are identified; and treating the identified problems. Note, however, that under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, states were given increased leeway in the delivery of services.

IDEA requires public schools to make available to children with disabilities a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment appropriate to their individual needs. IDEA requires that an Individualized Education Program (IEP) be developed for each child. The IEP must be reviewed annually by a team that includes the child’s teacher, the parents, the child (if appropriate), and an agency representative qualified to supervise the provision of special services.

There are other relevant federal laws. The Americans with Disabilities Act covers people who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities. Those impairments, however, are not specifically named.

The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by federal agencies, in programs receiving federal financial assistance, and in federal employment.

Section 501 forbids employment discrimination in the executive branch. Section 503 forbids employment discrimination by most federal contractors. Under Section 504, “no qualified individual with a disability in the United States may be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination” under any program or activity that receives federal funding or is conducted by an agency of the United States. Common requirements include reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, program accessibility, effective communication with those with hearing or vision disabilities, and accessible construction.

Section 508 requires that electronic and information technology be accessible to people with disabilities. In short, this means that information systems cannot be accessible by just one sense. Therefore, for example, a system that provides output only in a visual format is not in compliance.

To reiterate: Participation in and the success of federal programs for children with disabilities depends upon caregivers. There are only a limited number of services available in each state, and there is always a waiting list. These programs are not cheap, and the requirements and restrictions are fairly precise. If you are not a vigilant caregiver, opportunities will be lost.

For that reason, you must concentrate on the educational aspects of your child’s life. Read and understand the IDEA. It is your weapon for services.

—Michael Keating

A Great Duck Race
VVA Chapter 862
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Knoxville, Tennessee, Chapter 1078
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