By Joe Lacdan, Army News ServiceFebruary 18, 2020
FORT MEADE, Md. -- To improve assignment and case coordination for Families enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program, the Army's Human Resources Command has been developing a web-based system where support staff and families will be able to access cloud-based forms for faster processing.
Eventually the system will be able to link EFMP information with the Army's assignments process. It will also provide quicker access to EFMP data for Soldiers and their families.
Col. Steve Lewis, chief of the Army's Family Program Branch, G-9, calls it "stage 1" into making the system more efficient and accessible to EFMP families and plans to launch the system within the next year.
Lewis testified at a House Armed Services Committee hearing Feb. 5 where EFMP military Families voiced their concerns about difficulties in navigating the system and getting needed healthcare.
Additionally, during town hall meetings with EFMP Families in the past year, Lewis learned that some families have hardships when transferring healthcare and educational services from one installation to another during permanent-change-of-station moves.
"As children move from school district to another school district and across various states, we are finding the individualized education plans that were established at prior sites aren't always being adopted and acted upon the same way in the new installation," Lewis said.
The Army recently launched initiatives to improve the program, including establishing the Army's Quality of Life Task Force, where Lewis serves as deputy director.
"The individuals and teams established to support the Army's Exceptional Family Member Program share a unified purpose: to ensure a Soldier's assignment is fully capable of meeting the medical and educational needs of the Soldier's Family member," Lewis said during the Feb. 5 hearing.
Lewis said a key element in improving EFMP service will be communication. On Jan. 30, he attended a senior spouses' panel in Washington where he detailed the Army's long-term plans to improve services as well as listened to spouses' concerns.
"We know we need to improve upon both the local marketing of the EFMP services from the Installation Management Command and connecting with Families and ensuring that they've got a very active web and social media presence," Lewis said.
The Army began its effort to revamp its EFMP process when then-Army Secretary Mark Esper ordered a comprehensive 13-question survey of more than 3,000 EFMP Families last May to identify "gaps and vulnerabilities' in the program.
The survey, developed by the Army Public Health Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, queried families on their experiences during PCS moves and hurdles in the process, said Dr. Jill Brown, public health scientist at APHC.
"The survey did allow us an opportunity to recognize that we do have challenges in reaching out and engaging and communicating with families to ensure that they know what Family support services are available," Lewis said.
The findings revealed that families could find primary care faster than special needs healthcare. The survey also showed Soldiers wanted greater flexibility in their re-assignments. In response, the Army's Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky, has directed career managers to find a minimum of at least two assignment options with services accommodating to special needs Family members prior to issuing assignment instructions. This allows the families to conduct research on the locations and have a voice in the assignment process.
"For every assignment that Soldiers are considered, you've got a team of professionals within Human Resources Command, a team of professionals within the medical treatment facility," Lewis said. "And they really do (try) based on the medical condition that's described by the physician, to match that condition and the requirements to treat that condition to the availability of services at each MTF."
EFMP is a multi-agency effort that provides a comprehensive, coordinated approach for medical, educational, housing and community support for Families who have members with special needs. The program consists of healthcare providers, coordinators, assignments managers and educators who work with Families to find the educational and healthcare support that best fits their needs.
The Army currently has 119 full-time EFMP staff members to service 54,000 Families, including 55 system navigators that work within the Army Community Services offices. Lewis noted that the Army has an additional 80-90 staff members in the medical treatment facilities that include case coordinators. Within Child and Youth Services, school liaison officers help Families with special needs children address educational concerns.
"We know challenges remain and we have room to improve," Lewis said. "We must get this right."
Lewis said establishing the Quality of Life Task Force and the cloud-based data system will help the service achieve its broader people-based strategy.
"I think the most important measure of success is, 'did we get the assignment right?" Lewis said. "Are the support capabilities in place to match that Family member?"