By Kathleen Moakler
If our ringing telephones are any indication, more military families are interested in adopting than ever before. The National Military Family Association receives several phone calls each week from military families who are beginning the adoption process or asking questions about military adoption programs.
A basic overview of adoption benefits available to military families:
Department of Defense Adoption Reimbursement program: An active duty member of the military who incurs expenses for the adoption of a child under age 18 may be reimbursed up to $2,000 per child (with a maximum reimbursement to one servicemember of $5,000 in any calendar year) for qualifying expenses. No more than one member of a dual military couple may be reimbursed for expenses relating to the adoption of the same child. If both spouses are members of a military service, the couple may not receive reimbursement under the program totaling more than $5,000 in any calendar year. Benefits are payable only after the adoption is final. Requests for reimbursement must be submitted no later than one year after finalization of the adoption. The reimbursement form (DD 2675) and information may be accessed at www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/infomgt/forms/eforms/dd2675.pdf.
Military leave: Although servicemembers are not eligible for leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, they are covered by a different law. Public Law 109-163 allows up to 21 days of leave, in addition to regular leave, to be used in connection with the adoption. Consistent with military requirements, commanders are encouraged to approve requests for ordinary leave once a child is placed in the home of the member for adoption to allow a period of bonding or time to establish arrangements for child care. Only servicemembers eligible for reimbursement of adoption expenses may qualify for this leave. In the event that two members of the armed forces, who are married to each other, adopt a child in a qualifying child adoption, only one member is a allowed this special leave. This provision took effect Jan. 6, 2006 and applies only to adoptions completed on or after that date.
Deployment deferment: Single members or one member of a military couple may receive a four-month assignment and deployment deferment from duty away from the home station for the period immediately following the date a child is placed in the home of a member or members, as part of the formal adoption process.
Permanent Change of Station (PCS) allowances and medical benefits: A child under age 18 placed in the home of a member by a placement agency for adoption is considered a dependent in determining travel and transportation allowances. With a court order for the placement, the child may be eligible for military health benefits.
Coast Guard parental leave: Coast Guard members may apply for a one-time separation from active duty for up to two years to care for an adopted child and up to five days administrative leave to attend to the needs of an adopted child. Ordinary leave may be used and is encouraged once a child is in the member's home for adoption.
Now that you know the rules, how do you get started? Several resources are available:
The Child Welfare Information Gateway, sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services (www.childwelfare.gov; click Adoption on the left-hand side) is a fine place for prospective adoptive parents to begin. This site has it all: how to adopt, types of adoption, financial assistance, laws and policies, issues unique to various types of families, and information useful both before and after a child is placed in a family.
Military OneSource provides an in-depth section on adoption for military families and features pertinent information on kinship adoption and adopting your spouse's children. Go to www.militaryonesource.com and click Parenting on the left-hand side.
Adopt Us Kids' comprehensive guide, Wherever My Family Is: That's Home - Adoption Services for Military Families, incorporates checklists, glossaries and stories of successful military family adoptions into a roadmap that helps prospective parents navigate the twists and turns of the adoption process. It also provides information for adoption professionals who likely are unfamiliar with military culture, to help promote military families as candidates for adoption. See www.adoptuskids.org/images/resourcecenter/atcpublications.aspx.
The National Military Family Association offers a DoD Adoption Reimbursement Program fact sheet on specific adoption benefits for servicemembers and their families, outlining the financial reimbursement and leave benefits associated with adoption. Visit NMFA.org.
As with any major undertaking, it is important to do your homework before you get started. Find other families in your community who have adopted, domestically or overseas. Ask your local installation family support center, city or county social service agencies or religious groups about adoption support groups in your area.