Caring for a family member who has chronic health problems or special needs can be an around-the-clock job and it can be tiresome. The Respite Care Program is a component of the Army Community Service (ACS) Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) that provides a temporary rest period for family members responsible for regular care of persons with disabilities. Families will receive 25 hours each month under the program.To be eligible, families must be Army, on active duty or in an active status via Title 10 orders/Article 32, and actively enrolled in EFMP. EFMs must reside in the household with the service member and be categorized as Level 3 or Level 4 of care. Other branches of service have their own respite care programs.To be considered Level 3 or 4, EFMs must meet one or more of the following criteria: little or no age-appropriate self-help skills, severe continuous seizures activity, ambulation with neurological impairment that requires assistance with daily living, tube feeding, tracheotomy with frequent suctioning, apnea monitoring during hours of sleep that require another family member remain awake during monitoring, inability to control behavior with safety issues requiring constant supervision, and life threatening or chronic condition requiring frequent hospitalizations or treatment encounters."Respite care is critical because it decreases family stress, increases family stability, and allows a family to have some free time for themselves," said Dr. Barbara Brown, Fort Gordon EFMP manager, ACS.Since the Army discontinued respite care for Levels I and 2 exceptional family members (EFMs), leaving only those classified as Level 3 or 4 eligible, the number of Fort Gordon families that receive respite care dropped dramatically, Brown said.One reason Brown said the number dropped is because fewer EFMs are eligible to receive respite care since Levels 1 and 2 were dropped; another is because several EFMs have relocated to a different installation since July 2017 when changes to the program were made. But perhaps the biggest reason, she said, is because families are unaware it remains available for those who need it most."We're trying to get the word out that it is still an option," Brown said. "We have more providers than we have families, and we want to get the information out."Respite care providers are selected and screened by the Department of Army Headquarters (DAHQ). Each goes through an extensive annual background check and possesses skillsets necessary to care for EFMs. Families should expect from 30 to 90 days turnaround time when submitting an application for respite care."If you're receiving respite care at your current installation but are being reassigned to a new installation, then all you have to do is transfer your files," Brown said. "If there's a provider who is a family member and is coming to this installation, the file is transferred here also." Once approved, typically DAHQ will give the family a minimum of two providers to interview and select from to ensure that family receives a perfect fit.Brown said she encourages families to apply for respite care as soon as possible."If you feel your EFM qualifies, come see us and we can provide you with all of the necessary information."Brown is located in the Command Support Center at 271 Heritage Park Lane. She can also be reached at 706-791-1918, and Barbara.a.brown96.civ@mail.mil.Additional information -- including forms necessary for respite care -- can be found at www.gordon.armymwr.com/efmp.DID YOU KNOW?Although Level 1 and Level 2 EFMs are not eligible for respite care through the Army, they may be eligible to receive respite care through programs outside of the Army. Contact EFMP to learn more.