FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Few things can expand the to-do lists of Soldiers and their family members quite like receiving permanent change of station orders.
The resulting flurry of activity can seem overwhelming at times, but officials remind servicemembers and their families to keep the Exceptional Family Member Program in mind, according to Sarah Smith, Lyster Army Health Clinic EFMP case coordinator and special needs adviser.
“EFMP is a program designed to ensure that required care is available at the required minimum frequency at any gaining installation that a servicemember and their family may go to,” she said, adding that Fort Rucker has almost 900 family members enrolled in the program. “We don’t want servicemembers and their families to end up anywhere where the medical care they need is unavailable to them.”
EFMP provides comprehensive support to family members with special needs. EFMP takes an all-inclusive approach to coordinate military and civilian community, educational, medical, housing, and personnel services to help Soldiers and their families with special needs, according to Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation officials on their website at https://www.armymwr.com/programs-and-services/personal-assistance/exceptional-family-member-program.
An exceptional family member is a family member with any physical, emotional, developmental, or intellectual disorder that requires special treatment, therapy, education, training, or counseling, and meets the eligibility criteria. Soldiers with exceptional family members are required to register for EFMP and keep enrollment information current. This way, family needs will be considered during the outside of the continental United States assignments process, according to information on the site.
Soldiers who receive an OCONUS assignment, including Alaska and Hawaii, will need to go through the EFMP office to have their family members screened, according to Smith.
“Family members need to get screened, so we can determine if they need any type of specialty care,” she added.
If the family member is registered, EFMP screening simply acts as a process to confirm that the special need still exists or provides an opportunity to update the status of the special need if it has changed, according to Smith. If the family member is not registered, the EFMP screening process may result in the identification of an exceptional family member and enrollment in the EFMP.
The time to act is now, Smith said.
“The entire process, if all paperwork and their exams are in order, can take between 30-40 business days,” she said. “We’re in peak season because many people will be PCSing this summer and they really need to get going on this.”
One thing people need to make sure they have is a current physical – one within the last 365 days, according to Smith.
“If they need a physical and are seen at Lyster, they need to contact their primary care manager, just as they would to schedule an appointment,” she said. “If they have a civilian provider, we will normally require an authorization to release medical information, so we can get those family members’ medical records here and review them.”
Once servicemembers get their orders, they will go through military personnel and get their DA Form 5888, Family Medical Deployment Screening Sheet, and they also get the DA Form 7246, EFMP Screening Questionnaire, Smith added.
“Regardless of whether family members are enrolled in EFMP or not, they do have to all go through the screening process,” she said. “Our EFMP medical director then reviews the medical information that we have for those family members and he makes the determination, according to Army Regulation 608-75, whether they need to be enrolled in the program or if they are medically cleared and don’t have any specialty care that’s needed.”
Family members who have referrals for specialty care within the last one or two years that are still open need to schedule an appointment with their provider as soon as possible, Smith said. “We need to know the results to see if the family member requires additional care and follow-up, or if they are cleared medically.”
EFMP also handles children with learning disabilities – on the medical side with Smith, and also on the family services side through Army Community Service.
“The education side of the house seems to get forgotten a lot,” Smith said. “If your child received any type of special service or accommodations that fall under an Individualized Education Plan, or 504 Plan, they need to go ahead and get in contact with me, so we can start the education enrollment process. If we have any kiddos that are under the age of 3 that are receiving any early intervention service, whether off post or here on post, we need to get an Individualized Family Service Plan in place, or get a copy of that, and then we will do an education enrollment for them.”
ACS’ portion of the EFMP mission is focused on education, activities and coordination, according to Amanda Goodson, ACS EFMP coordinator.
“My part of the program focuses on family services – education and training for parents, conducting workshops to help parents understand their children’s disabilities or whatever interests that we have with our parent population here,” Goodson said. “We keep in touch and send out monthly emails about activities and workshops going on. When people enrolled in the program receive an assignment, I can also write to the gaining installation EFMP office to tell them they have a family coming who will request assistance with housing accommodations or special educational needs, so we can go ahead and get those things arranged for them before they get there.”
While some servicemembers may find themselves with orders to locations where the special needs of their families cannot be supported and accordingly do not receive command sponsorship for their family members, EFMP continues to look out for their best interests.
“Our program is for the family,” Smith said. “If we take care of their families, then servicemembers are able to focus on their jobs because they know their family is getting the care that they need. Occasionally, servicemembers may end up being separated from their family or may be declined an assignment to locations that they feel enhance their career, but essentially, in the long run, we’re trying to take care of their family.”
For more information on EFMP on the medical side of the house, call 255-7431; and on the family services side, call 255-9277.
Newly updated EFMP forms are available for download at https://efmp.amedd.army.mil/forms.html.