Field Talk is a monthly blog post sharing the voices of early childhood providers who serve or have served military families of young children with disabilities (birth to 5 years old). We hope you find it to be educational, personable, and encouraging.
This month we talked with Charles Morton, MD. Dr. Morton is a Developmental Pediatrician at a major hospital in Urbana, IL. Dr. Morton retired as a colonel in the Air Force after over twenty years of service. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Describe your current role.
I see children who have delays, autism, behavior issues, complex ADHD, Down syndrome, and other chronic and physical disabilities.
What’s your favorite part of your current job?
I really enjoy meeting with the families and interacting with the children.
Tell us about experiences you have had working with military families.
I spent 22 years active duty in the Air Force, so my heart is really with military families and the stresses they face.
How did you come to work with military families?
I got an Air Force Scholarship to medical school and stayed for a career. Now the closest military base is over a hundred miles away, but we have reserve and guard families and just some military families who live here in Central Illinois.
Describe a rewarding experience working with military families.
With every family with a direct military connection – they are dependents – there is an instant bond and feeling of well-being knowing they have a physician who has lived their life to some degree and understands their often-difficult situation. Because some families are so removed from the military, the spouse doesn’t often realize the benefits they can access, even TRICARE insurance in some cases.
Describe a challenging experience working with military families.
While TRICARE (military insurance program) makes it easy to access services, payment for TRICARE services is rather meager, which reduces the degree of access to some doctors. This makes me sad because these families are under a lot of stress that most civilians do not understand.
From your experience, how are military families similar and different from other types of families? How do you change your practice between families?
The similarity is that they have the same health concerns, but the difference is that they have specialized massive stress related to the actual or potential deployment of the military member. Sometimes military families have better access to healthcare than some families, but often theirs is more limited, and the families have little understanding of the different TRICARE health plans.
As providers, how can we support military parents who are deployed or away frequently due to trainings/school?
It would be wonderful if we were somehow notified that the military member was going to be gone so we could find a way to ease the family’s access to our systems.
Describe a specific stressor that military families with whom you have worked have shared or experienced.
I saw a family here in the states that had a permanent change of station to overseas. This family had an Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) need that arose after they arrived overseas. They had to request an EFMP family reassignment, which was challenged within the service member’s chain of command, but was eventually allowed to occur.
What “insider” tips or advice do you have for service providers working with military families who have young children with disabilities?
Young military families are often as alone as their civilian counterparts and often just have to be pointed in the right direction to make something happen. More experienced families have learned a lot about networking,
If you could change or improve one thing for military families with young children with disabilities, what would it be?
When I left the military 10 years ago I was surprised by how little the civilian health care system worked together. The military is all about teamwork. Individuals in the civilian sector are often left to their own devices to determine what they need and to procure those resources. That is not something military families have had to do within the military healthcare system.
The civilian population recognizes that military families are under extra stress and there is a strong feeling that resources should be provided to them. How military families are able to find those resources is a problem. If those of us within the civilian health care system could establish a better network of care for our military families, including medical and community resources, then that might be a great help. Networking is how a lot of services are found.
What types of resources have you sought out to feel more confident and competent at meeting the specific needs of military families? (e.g., trainings, blog posts, organizations, etc.)
I have a network of current and former military developmental pediatricians that I can tap when I have a question about a child, a parent, a service or a system. Of course there can be no HIPAA violations, but general information can be of great help. A more direct link that would allow for HIPAA information to be shared with the military EFMP or health care system would be helpful. However, this is perhaps impossible.
This post was edited by Robyn DiPietro-Wells & Michaelene Ostrosky, PhD, members of the MFLN FD Early Intervention team, which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.