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Exceptional Family Member Program offers service, assistance to families with special needs

By Lori A. Bultman | 25th Air Force Public Affairs | Sept. 26, 2018

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —

Having a family member with special medical or educational needs can be challenging, but the Exceptional Family Member Program is available to assist active duty military personnel with a wide variety of services and referral capabilities.

The majority of participants in the program at Joint Base San Antonio are in the military, but the program also offers limited activities and services to Department of Defense civilians, military retirees, Guard and Reserve members and those in geographically separated units. 

By the program’s definition, an exceptional family member, who can be a child or an adult, is one who has a physical, developmental, emotional or intellectual impairment or disability, and requires special medical or educational support services.

“Exceptional family members can have one or more of many disabilities,” said Marcia James, JBSA-Lackland EFMP family support coordinator. “The disabilities do not have to be severe to qualify for the program. You qualify if you have a family member who requires specialized services. The full criteria can be found in DOD Instruction 1315.19, section 3. You do not need to be enrolled in EFMP to receive assistance or gain resources and referrals from our office.”

The EFMP office at JBSA-Lackland is the largest EFMP in the Air Force, with more than 1,600 families participating in the program, James said. It is one of 10 bases that have an expedited process, meaning members with a projected assignment to an expedited base may participate in an abbreviated EFMP clearance. This process ensures the service member is assigned near the services the family member needs.

“Because Joint Base San Antonio is located near a large metropolitan area, it has a wide variety of special services available and is often the assignment of choice for a lot of families,” said Valerie Barber, JBSA-Lackland EFMP family support coordinator.

Each installation’s EFMP consists of three components. The first component is EFMP Medical, which provides medical support to exceptional family members. This includes screening, enrollment and assignment coordination through the special needs identification assignment coordination process. Through the program, medical support for a family member may be provided through an installation’s military treatment facility or it may be provided by other authorized medical entities, Barber said.

The EFMP Assignments component considers the medical and educational needs of the family during the assignment process and is administered through the Air Force Personnel Center assignments branch.   

“When a service member who is Q coded (has an EFMP family member) receives orders for a new assignment, the EFMP Assignments coordination ensures special needs are considered during the assignment process,” James said.

The third component of the program is EFMP Family Support, which assists families by providing resources, information and referrals, in addition to non–case management through networking and partnering with agencies on and off the installation.

The Family Support coordinator establishes, implements and maintains family support information and referrals for families with exceptional family members, including those of Department of Defense civilian employees, military retirees, guard and Reserve personnel and geographically separated units.   

“We are the sustainment piece from the time a service member receives orders. We contact them prior to arrival, support them while they are at the installation, and again when they PCS (permanent change of station), connecting them with their gaining base EFMP office,” Barber said. “Our job is to not only do our best to enhance the quality of life for our family members, but to sustain them while they are here.”

The EFMP Family Support program also provides information to participants on the availability of respite care. 

“The Air Force has partnered with a civilian child care programs to create a respite program for EFMP families,” Barber said. “The primary program is for active duty Airmen enrolled in EFMP and gives the family a time to rejuvenate. Eligible Air Force families can receive up to 40 hours of respite per month at no charge.

Maria Trevino, the spouse of an active duty Airman, appreciates the respite services offered to her family.

“I was so lucky to find you, and find out about the respite care program,” Trevino said. “It’s been an awesome help for us.”

Another active duty spouse, Krystal Cole, participates in the respite program with her son, who is on the autism spectrum. Her family has been participating in the program since her son was five years old.

"We've been utilizing the EMFP's Respite Care Program for about four-and-a-half years for our two children,” Cole said.  “We've had two providers since starting with the program, and have had our current provider for about three years.

“We utilize our respite care hours for a variety of things, from date nights and volunteer opportunities to being able to go to work,” she said. “Since they increased the free respite care hours from 12 per month to 40 per month, I was actually able to work this summer as a PRN nurse (Per Diem or temporary fill-in nurse), and my children were able to stay at home where they are comfortable. Our provider also comes on family outings with us.”

The provider who takes care of the Cole’s children is specially trained and the children enjoy their time with her.  

“My children look forward to our provider coming. She usually brings an activity for all of them to do together, and the children always have had positive things to say about their time together,” Cole said. “I attribute that to the great and thorough training the providers must go through before they are put out on cases. As a nurse and a mom, I can tell you that the specialized training providers go through really prepares them with the special skills they'll need to use in each home.”

In addition to respite care, the EFMP Family Support office offers specialized training and workshops, has a vast resource library and can give direct referrals to services, camps and events throughout the year. They also have a quarterly parent newsletter that is sent to participants.

“We keep parents in the ‘EFMP Know’ by posting information on resources, activities and current and upcoming events on our EFMP Facebook page,” James said. "And, for those not familiar with EFMP, or who just want to know more about what they offer, there will be a special workshop in October on how to navigate the program and its available services."

“The Navigating EFMP workshop Oct. 25 is the best place to find out how the program works and what we have to offer,” Barber said. “This workshop will include subject matter experts from each EFMP component, TRICARE, Respite Care and the school liaison office.  It will be a great opportunity to have your questions answered face to face.”

The Navigating EFMP workshop is from noon to 1:30 p.m. Oct. 25 at the CAMP facility at JBSA–Lackland, 2525 Ladd Street, building 3850. For preregistration, call 210-671-3722 or email jbsa.efmp@us.af.mil. Preregistration is not required to attend.