FORT POLK, La. — There’s nothing like sitting across from your doctor as they explain a prognosis you can’t imagine dealing with. How do you even begin? Feelings of fear and isolation are probably the first emotions to hit, especially if there’s not a strong support system place. It can be a difficult issue, especially for military Families far away from home.
If you have a Family member who has been diagnosed with a physical, emotional, developmental, intellectual or educational challenge, Fort Polk’s Exceptional Family Member Program can provide a source of strength and comfort.
Trisha Kearns, Army Community Service Exceptional Family Member Program coordinator, and Chris Barrett, ACS EFMP system navigator, inform, support and guide military Families through the realities of their medical results and the EFMP process.
Barrett said she and Kearns take the time to explain to Families what that diagnosis actually means.
“We do research and pass that information on to the Families as we give them support and walk them through this new and scary diagnosis. We try to reassure them it’s not the end of the world. We are their support system at this installation,” Barrett said.
Kearns said it’s important to be available to listen to their Family members fears when it comes to their diagnosis.
“Providing the information they need to better understand and get them comfortable about what comes next. This is particularly true with autism. Families will think the worst when it comes to a future for their kid and that’s not often the case,” Kearns said. “You don’t usually get that kind of support from a doctor. It’s not really their role, so it’s up to us.”
It’s critical to note that EFMP is a mandatory enrollment program in accordance with Army regulation 608-75, a Department of Defense public law. Enrollment ensures Family members’ medical needs are considered during the assignment coordination process. Enrollment applies to Family members of active duty Soldiers, Reserves and National Guard serving under authority of Titles 10 and three.
Family members must be enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System.
Some of the common EFMP issues include autism, severe allergies, limited mobility and more. Some needs often overlooked include migraines, arthritis, heart conditions and more.
Barrett said one of the easiest ways to explain to people who don’t know much about their program, and might be eligible, is to tell them if they have a Family member with a doctor that has an “ology” as their specialty — neurology, cardiology ophthalmology, rheumatology, psychology and more — they should contact EFMP.
“Most people have a narrow perception of special needs and EFMP covers a wide range of care. We don’t just help Families with diagnoses such as down syndrome, special education or physical disabilities,” Barrett said.
Kearns said many military Families don’t know about the aid they can get from EFMP.
“Many Families don’t realize there are two sides of EFMP — medical enrollment and Family support. Family support is what they need to get those additional supports and have a better understanding of what’s going on and how to contact different providers and navigate the systems. That and other important EFMP information isn’t necessarily passed to the spouse or Family members and that’s who needs it the most,” Kearns said.
Some of the assistance offered at Fort Polk’s EFMP office, located at ACS, building 920, includes:
•System navigation — provides access and information to various resources for specialty care needs. Also provides a connection for adults or children on a variety of resources such as learning materials, Social Security and more
•Family support-service plans — A complete needs assessments and or plans and non-clinical case management
•Assistance with permanent change of station transition
•School support — helps with early intervention, special education (Individualized Education Program/504), attend meetings if needed and options after graduation
•Housing coordination and accommodations
•Respite care — Family member must meet level III or IV criteria and a max of 25 hours per month if qualified
•Multi-agency meetings to ensure childcare is available at Child and Youth Services Centers specific to medical and behavioral needs
•Medical travel reimbursement for more than a 100 miles
Barrett said they just found out about the travel reimbursement themselves
“Families can get reimbursed up to a year back. Now that we know, we are contacting people and spreading the word. They need to get this money back for all those appointments they had to travel to,” Barrett said. “Families we are already working with can come to us and we can direct them to the right place.”
Whether it’s guiding Families through programs like travel reimbursement or being a soft place for Families to land when their diagnosis seems overwhelming, Fort Polk’s EFMP Office is there to help. For more information call (337) 531-2840.