Army creates office to better support families with special needs

by Tommy Grant

Army Sec. Christine Wormuth on Thursday announced the creation of an office to better aid the stationing process for military families with members who have special needs.

The Army Exceptional Family Member Program will operate through a central office, and coordinate a variety of healthcare services, change of station processing and family support services. Soldiers enroll in the program when “they have a family member with a physical, emotional, developmental or intellectual disorder” that requires specialized health care or educational services, according to an Army news release.

The creation of a central office builds on the Army’s previous work with special needs families. The office will review complex cases received from installations, and focus on advocacy at the Army headquarters level and Department of Defense level, officials stated. The central office is one of the requirements for service officials in DOD guidance for the Exceptional Family Member Program issued last year, which was aimed to provide more consistency and better support for military families with special needs.

All branches of the military offer an Exceptional Family Member Program, which includes a variety of personnel, medical and family support functions. About 110,000 active duty service members are enrolled.

For years, military families with special needs have detailed their problems with the availability and quality of medical care and special education. Following a February 2020 congressional hearing, lawmakers mandated EFMP standardization and improvements in the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.

The needs of an eligible family member are considered in the personnel assignment process, with the intended goal being to keep families together by allowing them to come with the service member to their duty location, reads the news release.

“The foundation of Army readiness depends on taking care of our soldiers and families,” Wormuth said in the release. “Each Army family is unique, and the EFMP Central Office will provide tailored support for over 40,000 families enrolled in EFMP.”

The Exceptional Family Member Program is a mandatory program that works with both military and civilian agencies to provide a variety of support, whether it be housing, healthcare, educational or other personnel services, according to the Army.

However, the service did note that military families should first approach their Army Community Service or military treatment facility professionals if they need help or encounter barriers to education or healthcare needs for their family. The Exceptional Family Member Program Office is available for additional support.

“EFMP-support agencies at the installation level are well postured to assist families, but when a support agency or family member needs additional assistance to find the right resources, the EFMP Central Office team members are there to help,” Lt. Gen. Kevin Vereen, Deputy Chief of Staff for G-9, said in the release.

The Defense Department also has an Office of Special Needs which provides support to military families with special needs, develops policy and provides oversight of the EFMP, and works with the military services to make sure their special needs families have the support and resources they need.

Zamone “Z” Perez is a rapid response reporter and podcast producer at Defense News and Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book “A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families.” She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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