An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : News
NEWS | May 24, 2021

JBSA’s Exceptional Family Member Program provides support, builds resilience

By Lori A. Bultman - 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

When Lt. Cmdr. Liezl Nicholas arrived at Joint Base San Antonio with her family, she was unsure where to start looking for resources for her special needs son until she contacted a coordinator at one of JBSA's Exceptional Family Member Program-Family Support offices. 

The U.S. Coast Guard officer, her husband Daniel, and two children, became an EFMP family when her son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in December 2019. 

The Exceptional Family Member Program is a partially mandatory enrollment program comprised of three pillars – Assignments, Enrollment, and Family Support. Assignments are handled by Human Resources, and Enrollment is handled by medical personnel.  

The Family Support pillar is a voluntary portion of EFMP that helps military families with special needs connect with military and civilian agencies for comprehensive and coordinated community support, housing, educational, medical, and personnel services, exactly the services Nicholas and her family needed assistance with.  

The busy mom said shortly after her son was diagnosed, the pandemic hit and finding services where they lived, in Washington, D.C., became a virtual task.  

“He was 2 and half years old at diagnosis,” she said. “As soon as we set up all of his required therapies, COVID-19 hit and we were left to navigate this diagnosis and the new therapies virtually for the majority of 2020.”  

Since the family arrived in San Antonio this month, EFMP staff members have been vital to getting them situated in their new community.  

“Ms. Gonzalez and Ms. Dean at the EFMP office were instrumental in making me feel welcomed and in ensuring I had all the resources I needed to set my son up for success as soon as we arrived,” Nicholas said.  

Sally Gonzalez, JBSA-Fort Sam Houston’s EFMP coordinator, said EFMP offers a wide variety of services and opportunities that can assist families of any branch of the military.  

“Exceptional family members are those who require special medical services for a chronic condition such as asthma, attention deficit disorder, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and so on,” Gonzalez said. They might also be someone who is receiving ongoing services from a medical specialist, someone with a significant behavioral health concern, or someone receiving early intervention or special education services through an individualized education program or individualized family service plan.” 

Nichols said she is very thankful that the JBSA EFMP-Family Support is available to her as a Coast Guard member, and appreciated their quick responses when she called on them to assist. 

“I’ve just PCSed (permanent change of station) to San Antonio to attend graduate school at Army-Baylor for a Masters in Healthcare Administration,” Nicholas said. “I received e-mail and phone responses almost immediately after contacting them as we prepared for the move. They have helped me navigate family resources, assisted in locating various accredited therapists, introduced me to the special education director at the on-post elementary school, and assisted me with navigating the waitlist for base housing.” 

Nicholas said EFMP staff members helped her understand the process for requesting priority consideration for on-base housing, which was a big concern for the family.  

“My program is only two years long, and the waitlist for housing was six to 12 months,” she said, noting that, with EFMP assistance, they were able to acquire base housing.  

“Living on post gives us proximity to my son’s providers and eases the logistical challenges that come with having two kids,” she said. “Additionally, the support services and activities make us feel like we can cultivate a community, even though we are not here for very long.” 

Gonzalez encourages all special families to utilize the services and assistance EFMP-Family Support offers and emphasizes that the program is not just for families with children.  

“A family member, spouse, dependent, parent, or another person within the family unit who has a disability can qualify the military family for the program,” she said.  

Enrollment in EFMP is mandatory for military families with special medical or educational needs. According to Military OneSource, it is required to enroll in TRICARE ECHO, or Extended Care Health Option, and ensures the family’s needs are considered during the assignment process. 

According to the website, with the family member’s special medical or education needs documented, medical and military personnel departments can work together to coordinate assignments to locations that have the resources to address those needs. While the military mission is the driving force in assignments, the family member’s needs are also considered since appropriate services may be limited in some locations. 

Nichols said for her family, EFMP has been vital to maintaining their resilience throughout their transition to San Antonio.  

“The EFMP gives my family peace of mind. The program provides all the necessary services and links families together,” she said. “They free us from the burden of feeling like we have to constantly reinvent the wheel. They have testimonials from other families that have been here before and that definitely shapes the decisions we make when choosing providers or programs for our son.”  

There are currently 105 full-time EFMP coordinators in the Department of the Air Force who are dedicated to improving the level of care to families at their respective installations. 

To obtain a referral to EFMP, service members should contact their military health care facility.