DoD upgrades program to help military members with family members who are exceptional

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Exceptional family members, such as those with Down’s Syndrome, are full of love. But they also can bring challenges, such as when the family has to relocate or find an accommodating school. For military members, that’s where the Exceptional Family Members Program comes in. It has an online tool to connect these families with resources they might need. The tool recently got a major enhancement. Joining Federal Drive with Tom Temin with details, a program analyst with the Defense Department’s Office of Military Community and Family Policy, Karen Terry.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Ms. Terry, good to have you on.

Karen Terry: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Tom Temin: Tell us about the program itself in the first place, the Exceptional Family Members Program, what does it do and how does it work?

Karen Terry: Well, EFMP is a mandatory DoD program. It was created to help active duty service members who have a family member with a special need that meets the criteria for enrollment. And to help them mostly with assignment coordination, help them, as you said, to get them from point A to point B as easily and as efficiently as possible taking into consideration those special needs. It’s for children of thousands of the active duty family member, and maybe even a dependent adult if that dependent adult has been established as a dependent by the DoD.

Tom Temin: Sure. And what are some of the issues that are exceptional that families tend to face? What kinds of numbers do you see there?

Karen Terry: Well, we have about 143,000 service members who have a family member enrolled in EFMP right now. The situations and the conditions can range from a chronic condition that causes them to need to see a doctor several times a year, or an educational issue that prompts them to get a Individualized Education Program, or an IEP, at school, and then they just need a little additional help in removing a little additional consideration.

Tom Temin: Yeah, so I guess replicating the services they might be using in location A can be difficult if you’re moving to location B, and it’s in another state, another time zone.

Karen Terry: That is part of the issue, yes. They just need some help. We identify the special needs through the enrollment process. And then that allows the military to know that there’s these considerations that they need to look at when they’re looking at the next duty location to see if these services are available and start setting that up for the family member.

Tom Temin: Alright. And then there is this online tool that helps with the program. And how does that work and describe that for us?

Karen Terry: Well, EFMP & Me is our new tool, we introduced it first last June. We have four user profiles that we’ve identified for EFMP & Me. The first being service members, and then family members. And then our newest ones are service providers and military leaders. And each profile has specific curated content and information that will help them with whatever the military lifestyle brings to them. We launched last year with family members, then added service members. And then we recently upgraded and added the service providers and the content for military leaders. The EFMP & Me is an access point for military families and other users who need information about where they’re going or even where they are. And it gives them the resources that they need, they can go in and they can give some demographics and say who they are and what they’re looking for. And then they will get specific and personalized information for the situation that they’re in or the process they’re trying to get through. So maybe they just looking for some more information on education, they can go into EFMP & Me and indicate that that’s what they’re looking for. And they’re going to get a complete list of the resources DoD has for that situation. And give them actionable items that they can use to start working on that issue for themselves and gives them a little bit of control, enables them to go out and ask the right questions, meet with the right people understand what’s going on. It’s just a great way of giving them access to all things EFMP, whenever and wherever they need it.

Tom Temin: And are these services location specific so that if they’re moving to, Picatinny Arsenal from, I don’t know, off an Air Force Base or something, then what’s there in New Jersey would be there in the application versus what’s in the place they’re leaving?

Karen Terry: Well, it’s specific to military resources. So it’s going to tell you the resources that are available at that next location, how to get ahold of the people have the family support providers, who can give you more personalized local information. So it’s more of an access point to start connecting people and connecting the user to the resources that they need to be a better self advocate.

Tom Temin: Sure. But safe to say that the issues tend to arise around duty station changes is that where most of the stress comes in for these families.

Karen Terry: Well, when we were doing our research for EFMP & Me, really pin down where these stressors were. Of course, a lot of them came from the PCS (permanent change of station) process. But there were a number of other stressors that we wanted to take into consideration when we were creating the product or the tool. So PCS is a big part of it. But there are also other, you know, just the enrollment process, or the education process or deployment, or even setting up long term planning. There are a number of moments in the person’s life where they’re going to need additional help and resources, and EFMP takes all those into consideration, and offers assistance for all. But there is quite a robust area for PCS, yes.

Tom Temin: And just to think of a specific example, if you have a child who has Down’s or some educational or mental developmental challenge or issue, it must be more difficult perhaps for that child to process a parent leaving on deployment, maybe then for other children. Is that a good example?

Karen Terry: Well, it can be yeah. I can speak from personal experience, I have a special needs child of my own, and it is hard sometimes to communicate what’s going on and that the parent will be coming back and the time and what all that means. So there are considerations like that, and we do offer within EFMP on installations or support groups or other resources that can help. And so EFMP & Me is making those new parents who are new to the community aware of these support offerings that we have for them so that they don’t feel like they’re trying to solve these problems alone.

Tom Temin: And you mentioned there are 143,000 service members with this situation, are they all part of the EFMP program, or is that how many have taken up from a larger population?

Karen Terry: Those are the number of enrolled service members. So service members may actually have more than one EFMP family member in their household, but we have 143,000 service members who are part of the EFMP programming.

Tom Temin: And you find that the commanders where people are headed or under which they’re working tend to understand these issues and are able to make whatever accommodations might be necessary so that they can get the full morale and full performance out of the service members themselves?

Karen Terry: Bringing awareness to EFMP, and what that means to the service member, and what that can then mean to the military leader and the unit and the unit readiness, is part of what we’re trying to do with EFMP & Me. It’s always a challenge to educate anyone on a program that they are not directly affiliated with. So we want to bring that awareness to the military leader. Military leaders want to understand what the challenges are their personnel are facing, they want to know how to help. This is their job. They’re interested in it, they they want to maintain the readiness of their unit. And so we are bringing them the information that they need so that they can have a better understanding of what the program is, how it affects their military member, how the challenges that the military member has might be different from another military member, and what that means for the unit and for that service member individually. So I know that they want to know and I know that we’ve provided some information and a way to access it that will really benefit them as a leader, and help them guide and steer their military member to really be able to help their families thrive in the new situation.

Tom Temin: Karen Terry is a program analyst with the Defense Department’s Office of Military Community and Family Policy. Thanks so much for joining me.

Karen Terry: Thank you, it’s great to be here.

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