Building family strength: Program provides exceptional care
Allison Dunkelberg, 4, bowls with the help of her father, Staff Sgt. Nathan Dunkelberg, during Exceptional Family Member Program bowling July 13 at Century Lanes

FORT JACKSON, SC -- Like many military families, Michele Shearin's family has had to overcome its share of adversity as her husband pursues his Army career.

From the time Shearin's sons were infants, they have been battling different ailments, such as asthma and food allergies.

And while six months pregnant with her third child, Shearin miscarried, just before her husband deployed to Iraq for the third time in six years.

For years, Shearin had always triumphed over her misfortunes on her own. But now she was simply overwhelmed.

All this time - through three deployments - no one ever had told her or her husband they needed to enroll in EFMP.

It wasn't until she signed up for hourly child care on post, and was told that enrolling was mandatory, that she was truly able to get help.

Shearin's family was just one of many Army families who had fallen through the cracks, said Brandi Palmer, an EFMP specialist.

"Usually we can catch them when they inprocess," Palmer said "but if they don't have anybody already enrolled in the program, it's easy for some families to be bypassed."

One common reason families are overlooked, Palmer said, is because some Soldiers aren't aware that a family member's condition is considered "exceptional."

"Many times it isn't until they want to use child care services here on post, and they have to fill out the registration paperwork which asks what medical or educational conditions a child may have, that they are identified for needing to be enrolled in the program," Palmer said.

Some of those conditions, as in the Shearin's case, are asthma and allergies, Palmer said. Some less obvious ailments might be attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, and depression.

Palmer said an exceptional family member is a dependent who requires medical services for a chronic condition, receives ongoing services from a specialist, has behavioral or psychological health concerns, receives services based on an Individual Family Services Plan, or receives educational services according to an Individual Education Program. Army regulation outlines a complete list of conditions.

Once the Soldiers enroll in the program, the EFMP coordinators give their families information regarding community resources that benefit their exceptional family member; they have support group meetings that link them up with other families who can relate; they offer educational presentations with guest speakers who are subject matter experts on specific conditions; they provide recreational activities for the families to get out and have some fun; and they also provide something that Shearin said she finds the most beneficial - respite care.

Each exceptional family member is offered 40 hours of free respite care per month.

Shearin uses this time to go to therapy, keep appointments, run errands, go grocery shopping - whatever she needs to do stay healthy.

"Because for as much as my kids need me, I also need a break," Shearin said. "I can't help them be healthy if I'm not healthy."

For Shearin, the respite care, as well as the constant support she has received since the time her family enrolled in EFMP just over a year ago, has been life changing, and life saving.

"I don't know how I would have made it without their help," she said.

For more information regarding the EFMP program, contact Cheryl Jackson at 751-5257 or Brandi Palmer at 751-1105.

Page last updated Thu July 22nd, 2010 at 08:15