child smiling at her mother

Exceptional Family Member Program- it Works!

Exceptional Family Member Program- it Works!

EFMPLogoI think it’s safe to say that if I was transferred overseas by a civilian employer, the human resources office wouldn’t inquire about any special needs my family might have. Nor would they provide information on the availability of medical and educational support at my new location.

I would be traveling solo or trying to do my own extensive research prior to accepting the position. I might not know about services and support for people with disabilities overseas. And, I may not know that the medical standards in a country overseas can be very different than here in the U.S. Or, that there may not be laws in that country that require handicapped accessible buildings and facilities. If I did accept the position and I ran into trouble finding resources, or my family member’s condition worsened, then I’m sure I would have to leave the position or hope that the company would honor my request to relocate stateside.

The Exceptional Family Member Program – you may know it as ‘EFMP’ – has been a blessing to my family and many other service members who have family members with special medical and/or educational needs. When my active duty husband received permanent change of station orders we were confident that the Marine Corps’ EFMP would consider our son’s medical and special education needs, and they did. I don’t think this would happen in the civilian world.

Over the years I’ve heard about every misconception that you can imagine about the EFMP assignment process. Service members worry that being enrolled in the EFMP will hinder their careers and may limit their assignment locations. It won’t. I use my own family as an example when someone asks me about possible negative impacts of the EFMP. I tell them that my husband moved up through the enlisted ranks and became a warrant officer with no problems at all. I also tell them that the EFMP does not limit deployments or assignments because the service member always has the option of going unaccompanied. My husband has deployed several times and is geographically separated from us right now; it was a decision we made in our son’s best interest. The bottom line is that we would never put our son in a situation where he couldn’t receive the care and support he needs.

Now I’m getting excited about the expansion of the EFMP family support services. President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 which requires the Department of Defense to establish an Office of Community Support for Military Families with Special Needs. This new office has a lot of work to do, but its first task is to establish a policy that will expand support to military families with special needs.

You may think that I’m biased toward this topic because I work in the program. And, maybe you’re right. I started working in the program because as a parent I knew the EFMP could be more than merely an assignment coordination process. My work in the EFMP at DoD has opened doors and enabled me to share families’ concerns, produce quality special needs products, and conduct training that positively impacts military families with special needs and the providers who serve them. I’m enthusiastic about the new office and the enhancement and improvement of support to military families with special needs. Simply put, it is a dream realized!

An attorney from South Carolina Protection and Advocacy once described me as a devil dog that smiles politely and nips at people’s heels until they do what I want. I would say that’s a fairly good description. A good advocate never gives up. I am reminded daily of the strength and resiliency of our military families with special needs and the stressors they face, and have made a personal commitment to improving their quality of life.

Remember that Military OneSource is also here to help. Visit the Military OneSource Special Needs Web page for resources, support, and information on everything from relocating to taking care of yourself when you have a family member with special needs.

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