By Rob McIlvaineApril 20, 2010
ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command recently conducted the second Exceptional Family Member Program Summit to enhance services for family members with special needs.
Officials said the summit is one way Army officials are keeping the promise of the Army Family Covenant.
Active-duty Soldiers enroll in the program when they have a family member who has a physical, emotional, developmental, or intellectual disorder requiring specialized services so their needs can be considered in the military personnel assignment process.
"The Army EFMP leads the uniformed services and the nation through a model of support for Soldiers and families with special needs by connecting and supplementing existing national networks of support and services with local military and civilian resources," said Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command.
A mandatory enrollment program, EFMP works with other military and civilian agencies to provide comprehensive and coordinated community support, housing, educational, medical, and personnel services to families with special needs.
"The needs of EFMP are great, and much work remains to be done, particularly in the areas of communication and program standardization," said Sharon Fields, the program's manager for the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command. "We must have seamless program standardization from garrison to garrison."
This vision, which program officials have worked on for the past year, is scheduled for implementation in July, Fields added.
With many garrisons becoming joint-based communities, this standardization should work seamlessly for all Exceptional Family Member Program families in every service, officials said. Efforts are ongoing to help families transition smoothly to communities where their special needs will be met with comprehensive and coordinated services. Soldiers then can focus on mission readiness, knowing their families' needs are met, Fields explained.
"The command knows what's needed. When Lieutenant General Lynch visits a garrison, he always pulls together a focus group of parents who are enrolled in EFMP, because he wants to hear their concerns and suggestions to make the program better," she said.
One Soldier said the Army is wasting no time in making good on its promise. Army Sgt. 1st Class Fernice Morton, equal opportunity advisor at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., has a son enrolled in EFMP and was selected to go to the summit after attending an EFMP workshop.
"While there," she said, "I was in respite care transition between contractors, and the Army Community Service staff was always available to assist me every step of the way."
Antoinette Hill a volunteer and the wife of a retired Soldier, has a daughter in the Exceptional Family member Program.
"I have witnessed the evolution of this program for more than 30 years, and the stars are aligned for great potential," she said. "While the nation is focused on the military, we are focused on collaborative EFMP partnerships, and the partners are stepping up. Families, warriors and survivors are better served, and EFMP better fulfills the promises of the Army Family Covenant."
Army Community Service is the place for soldiers at all Army garrisons to get information about the program.
"Army Community Service works hand in hand with the EFMP at the medical facility," explained Susan Moyer, Army Community Service EFMP manager at Fort Carson, Colo. "While the medical services are responsible for the paperwork for enrollment, at ACS we provide everything [such as support, information and links] you need."
Services that parents and individuals are searching for are right at their fingertips at ACS, Moyer said. "ACS is like a 'Yellow Pages' for special needs information," she said.
As the EFMP Summit drew to a close, Lynch summed up the way ahead.
"Take care of our Soldiers and families, one family at a time," he told the participants. "To do this, we've got to fix this program so it works better, and we have to get the word out. When I was a young commander, no one told me about EFMP. I had to learn about it on my own."
In the near future, EFMP officials at the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command will implement a system that fully supports families with special needs at five pilot locations: Fort Belvoir, Va.; Fort Campbell, Ky.; U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr, Germany; Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
Also in the near future, the Army will identify what's required for joint services to participate in this program.