Play Therapy
Ellen Hamm, an occupational therapist, engages in play therapy with Avery Shutka and Samuel Rairigh during a June 11 group speech and occupational therapy session at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Center for Autism, Resources, Education and Services, c... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Military families deal with a lot of transitions, which can be especially tough for people with special needs. The Department of Defense's Exceptional Family Member Program exists to ensure dependents with special needs get the care and services they need -- and to help make transitions easier.

"We are here for the service members and their families. We are ready to serve them in any way that we can. This is a team here, and we are available for our service members to assist," said Sabrina Williams, an EFMP case coordinator and special needs advisor at Madigan Army Medical Center.

With over 4,000 enrolled members, Joint Base Lewis-McChord has the largest EFMP enrollment in the DoD. Madigan manages the medical side of the program for each of these enrollees.

Given the annual rate of Army personnel turnover is 25 percent at JBLM, there are many families new to the area who will need to be engaged with Madigan's EFMP office, especially this time of year.

EFMP enrollment is required when an active-duty service member has a dependent who is diagnosed with a condition that is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. An Army booklet on the program available on base explains an exceptional family member as someone "who has a physical, emotional, developmental or intellectual disorder that requires special treatment, therapy, education, training or counseling."

When a service member with an exceptional family member is up for reassignment and JBLM is a potential duty station, the Army Human Resources Command (or other service's equivalent) will reach out with an inquiry to determine whether the exceptional family member's needs will be met here or not. Given that Madigan has a significant slate of specialties, the likelihood of assignment is high.

Upon assignment, Madigan's EFMP office will handle enrollment locally and assist with transferring care within TRICARE. A primary care manager will be assigned and that provider will move forward with any consults and referrals for care. Nurse case managers will review and engage with high-level cases that require complex care.

Williams is one of the professionals who helps families establish themselves upon arrival and ensures all records are kept current and accurate.

"We always want to keep it as accurate as possible. Whenever a family is going to be moving someplace, we want to make sure the most up-to-date information can be obtained," Williams said. "It's to their advantage to make sure the care can be available in that next duty station."

This is the process when a family is already established in the EFMP. What if a condition is suspected with a family member?

It all starts with the PCM.

"They are directed to engage EFMP," Williams said, explaining that beyond DoD and Army guidance, Madigan has a commander's directive that instructs providers to screen family members for possible enrollment during routine health care services, annually examine for conditions and to engage the EFMP office for enrollment when any is diagnosed.

While Madigan's EFMP office is concerned with the medical side of a family member's enrollment, the base EFMP engages more on the educational and resource side of things, focusing on the overall needs of a family.

Under the auspices of the Directorate of Personnel and Family Readiness, formerly known as Armed Forces Community Service, base EFMP system navigators reach out to newcomers to provide the family the support it needs.

"You serve this country. We're going to keep the promise -- we're going to take care of your family," said Megan O'Day, the manager of JBLM EFMP.

Since O'Day recently took over as the base EFMP manager, she's focused heavily on ensuring a customer service approach to newcomers especially. More system navigators are being added to the staff, who are now making courtesy calls to enrolled families as they are moving into the area to extend support.

"Much of what the EFMP system navigator does is help families move more smoothly through transitions," O'Day said.

The program's website has been redesigned to make it mobile-friendly and to be like a concierge map based on the subject or area of need. To help a family get the lay of the land, this site throws a net wide enough to include the community outside the base, and pertinent laws and information specific to Washington.

The program posts information on social media from across the community to make families aware of all the resources, activities and programs that will connect them with other families and ensure that all children and families get to partake in educational activity enrichment.

The websites below provide many resources available to JBLM EFMP families.

DoD resources website:

JBLM EFMP Facebook:

JBLM EFMP webpage:

JBLM DPFR Facebook:

JBLM Family Advocacy Program:

Madigan Pediatric Specialty Clinic:

Madigan EFMP email:

Related Links:

Madigan Facebook

Madigan Instagram

Madigan LinkedIn

Madigan Twitter