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DoD program eases adoption expenses

WASHINGTON — For many people, $2,000 doesn’t add up to much money in the long haul; it won’t, after all, buy a new car or a house.

But for Air Force Master Sgt. Kipp M. Bourgeois and his wife, Christina, the money was just enough to fulfill their long-term dream: a family.

The couple received the money through the Defense Department’s adoption reimbursement program to help in defraying their adoption costs.

While successful in the end, the couple’s path to adoption was a rocky one that took more than a decade, said Bourgeois, resource advisor for the 5th Maintenance Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. He and his wife, together for 21 years this month, spent the first 12 years of their marriage exploring every option — from fertility drugs to surgery — in a quest to conceive a child of their own. But Christina’s battle with endometriosis made it difficult for her to get pregnant, he explained.

Up against a financial brick wall, the couple decided to look into adoption and honed in on a special-needs adoption through the state. “Dealing with special needs wasn’t an issue for us,” Bourgeois said.

They set their sights on two siblings, Emalie and Kameron, who were ages 4 and 3, respectively, at the time. The state considered the children as having special needs due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and allergies. But the couple didn’t think twice about their special needs or the fact that they would be accepting two children into their home rather than one.

“My wife fell in love with both of them, just based on their picture,” Bourgeois recalled. “They just looked like they fit in our family.”

Since it was a state special-needs adoption, Nevada picked up most of the adoption costs. The couple considered themselves lucky, since adoption funding varies from state to state.

Still, the couple had to pay about $2,000 out of pocket for fingerprinting, training classes and a lawyer to finalize the adoption. The couple turned to the Defense Department’s adoption reimbursement program for financial help, joining thousands of other military couples who have received compensation through the program since its inception in 1991.

The program reimburses servicemembers for certain adoption expenses such as agency and placement fees, legal fees and medical expenses, Defense Finance and Accounting Service officials said. Servicemembers who serve continuously on active duty for at least 180 days can receive up to a maximum of $2,000 per child, but can’t exceed $5,000 per calendar year.

In 2009, the program distributed nearly 650 payments throughout the services, totaling more than $1 million. For the Bourgeois family, the money covered their out-of-pocket expenses almost entirely after the adoption was finalized in 2003.

They again turned to the program for help on their next adoption, three years later. But this time, they didn’t seek out the adoption. They were sought out.

Bourgeois was working with the birth mother and father at the time. When the birth mother found out she was pregnant, she was distraught, knowing her family wouldn’t approve since she wasn’t married, he said. Knowing they had adopted before, she called and asked the couple if they would take the baby.

“My wife wanted a newborn and jumped at the chance,” he said.

Since this adoption was private, it was more costly this time, adding up to roughly $13,000, Bourgeois said. But between the department’s reimbursement program and IRS tax credits, their out-of-pocket expenses were minimal. Emalie and Kameron are now 14 and 12, and their youngest, SkylarRae, is 3.

Bourgeois encouraged other military couples to look into resources such as the reimbursement program when considering adoption. The department also offers servicemembers who adopt up to 21 days of nonchargeable leave to be used in connection with the adoption.

While Bourgeois said he remains grateful for the resources that aided his family, “The love that (my children) return makes the money not even a thought in the end.”