Supporting Military Families With Special Needs
By Samantha L. Quigley
In the civilian world, a family member with special needs—child or adult—surely presents challenges. But once the right resources—doctors, schools and other opportunities—are located in or near the home community, some of the uncertainty about the future fades.
For military families facing a shifting landscape that could take them across the country or an ocean with each new set of orders, having a family member with special needs could cause constant worry. However, the military is working out the logistics long before orders are received.
Through its Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), the military first identifies and enrolls a family member with special medical or educational needs. Then, as the service member comes up for reassignment, the military works to make sure needed services are available at projected duty stations. Finally, it helps families identify and access programs and services.
While most enrollees in the EFMP program are children—about two-thirds, Tyne said—it also enrolls adults with special needs.
“That’s something we’ve really been working on for the last couple years … to really make sure that everybody understands the program is for all family members with special needs,” Dr. Ed Tyne said. “It’s not just a program for children.”
There are three components to the EFMP program, which covers military dependents with medical and educational needs, said Tyne, the program director for the Office of Special Needs within DoD’s Military Community and Family Policy.
The first is identification and enrollment, which is handled by medical treatment facilities. The second component is assignment coordination.
“What assignment coordination is, is an activity between the personnel commands and the medical commands to make sure that the special needs of a family member are considered during the sponsor’s assignment process,” Tyne said. “The third component, which is really new for at least two of the services, is family support in the family centers.”
Until recently, only the Army and the Marine Corps provided family support. In 2010, the Navy and Air Force began offering support for families that had members with special needs.
The support is mostly in the form of information and referrals, Tyne said, adding that the family centers can create a services plan to help families identify what the needs are and ensure a warm hand-off to the next location.
Air Force Master Sgt. Louis J. Gosseck, Jr., currently stationed at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, has navigated military life with EFMP’s help since his son was diagnosed with autism.
“We had Owen tested at … 16 months because he hadn’t spoken his first words like “momma,” “dada” or even “hi.” However, he could utter the alphabet with little trouble,” he said, adding the diagnosis of autism, and his enrollment in the EFMP program, came about four months later. “Adding him to the program, he was provided early intervention training and occupational and speech therapies.”
These opportunities, combined with proper schooling at Gosseck’s duty locations served Owen well.
“The EFMP was there when we needed them,” Gosseck said. “Owen is now 15 … (and) he has developed his own character and is a happy teenager.”
Vicki Farnsworth, an Army spouse, had a similar experience with her son, who was diagnosed with autism at a young age.
She and her husband, moved from Fort Campbell, Kentucky—where he’d served with the 101st Airborne from 2001 to 2008, deploying four times—to Utah. Before the move, their son was verbal. After the move, he wasn’t. Three years later, this played into the family’s next assignment. They were headed to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and a few weeks later, her husband would head to South Korea for a 1-year unaccompanied tour.
“Since we were able to prove that regression occurred, we went and told the Army … that, if we were to move and Daddy were to leave for an extended period of time, we may go completely back to square one,” Farnsworth said. “They agreed with us, so they deleted his orders to Korea.”
Once in Washington, with her son settled in kindergarten, she started looking for a job. She took a chance and applied for an assistant director position with EFMP and was hired.
Now she’s the associate director of STOMP, Specialized Training of Military Parents. The nonprofit is a “Parent Training and Information (PTI) Center dedicated to empowering military families with the training and information they need to promote success for their child with special needs,” according to Military OneSource. While not directly affiliated with EFMP, the organization often collaborates with the program, providing supplementary information and support.
Though EFMP is a mandatory program, there are families who don’t feel they need the services offered or are coping adequately without them. Tyne said there’s no good way to monitor participation in EFMP, but its positive impact can be seen, not just in families who find a partner to help them navigate finding care for their dependents with special needs, but in overall military readiness.
“If the families are taken care of and their needs are met, then the service member is going to be more ready to engage in the work they’re to do and not worry about the family,” he said. “If the family members are not being taken care of, it really distracts [the service members], as well as the command. I do think [EFMP] has contributed to military family readiness.”
For more information about EFMP, go to militaryonesource.mil/efmp. For more information about STOMP, go to stompproject.org.
–Samantha L. Quigley is the editor in chief of On Patrol.
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