JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —
The novel coronavirus pandemic forced the modification of three Exceptional Family Member Program workshops at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph early this year, but the virus has not stopped the delivery of services from the Department of Defense program that supports military families with special medical and educational needs, nor has it halted plans for workshops scheduled in the coming months.
“Since the pandemic began, I have simply been dealing with families via email and phone,” said Mike Bell, JBSA-Randolph EFMP family support coordinator. “We also have two classes coming up that are planned to be virtual for now.”
A briefing on special education and individual education plans facilitated by the Brighton Center, a San Antonio-based nonprofit organization that provides direct services to children with disabilities and developmental delays, is set for 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., July 23.
“This class provides critical information for parents dealing with teachers and the education system,” Bell said.
A legal briefing scheduled for 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Sept. 24, will focus on issues such as supplemental security income, special needs trusts, Able accounts and guardianships.
“Based on the feedback I received, the legal workshop was the most popular one we had last year,” Bell said.
In addition, a secondary dependency class is set for Nov. 14.
Providing support to EFMP families when in-person services were not available was not difficult due to the nature of the program, Bell said.
“Since the main piece of the EFMP – family support – is resource and referral, it is well-suited to be executed virtually,” he said. “Families seem to be doing well – it has actually been business as usual for the most part. I believe this is due to our families’ resiliency and the fact that they advocate for themselves very well.”
Virtual presentations were a part of EFMP support even before the pandemic began, Bell said.
“I use Military OneSource as a conduit to stream our classes virtually,” he said. “I send a link to the families that register to attend and they simply log in. I actually started this process over a year ago for the families that have a hard time getting out of the house with their kids, because it makes it easier on them.”
Their resiliency notwithstanding, EFMP families have faced more challenges than usual during the pandemic, Bell said.
“I believe they have had their hands full with homeschooling and taking care of their exceptional family member,” he said. “Just knowing what some families deal with on a typical day tells me that their workload increased significantly with their other children being home also.”
There are challenges on the military side as well, Bell said.
“I have spoken to several service members who were concerned about getting signed off in the virtual Military Personnel Flight for their pending permanent changes of station,” he said. “However, we were able to easily work this out through email, phone calls and other means.”
The EFMP families at JBSA have a plethora of resources in San Antonio, with EFMP offices at Fort Sam Houston, Lackland and Randolph, as well as a the EFMP Facebook page, Bell said.
“All three locations work together on certain endeavors, but work classes individually sometimes,” he said. “However, all families are invited to attend workshops and happenings, no matter where they are stationed.”
For more information on the Exceptional Family Member Program, call the EFMP-Family Support office at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, 210-221-2705; JBSA-Lackland, 210-671-3722; or JBSA-Randolph, 210-652-5321. The program’s Facebook link is www.facebook.com/JBSA.EFMP.