By Julie Provost
EFMP stands for the Exceptional Family Member Program and is what allows a service member to be stationed in the right place for their dependent’s special needs. That way, family members won’t be living in a place where they can’t get the services that they require.
EFMP has three components: The identification and enrollment of a family member with special medical or education needs; assignment coordination to determine the availability of services at the projected duty station; to offer support to help families identify and access programs and services.
There are EFMP programs for four of the five military branches. The Coast Guard does not have EFMP but members of this branch are required to register in the Coast Guard Special Needs Program. Each service has its own particular EFMP program.
Ideally, EFMP would make it possible for you and your family to have the best military experience you can have; however, this isn’t always what happens. For some, EFMP can ruin a career or cause a family to have to make difficult decisions about their future. While EFMP is mandatory, some don’t even want to go through the process because they fear what would happen with the service member’s career.
EFMP can keep a service member at their current location, not allowing them to move forward in their career
When a service member is getting ready for new orders, they hope to move ahead in their career. If they get orders to a particular location, EFMP can cause the orders to get canceled. . . even if the service member and their family want to go.
Susan, an Air Force spouse, has a six-year-old son who is allergic to peanuts. Her husband received orders to a base near a town with a peanut processing plant. The Air Force said that they wouldn’t move them there if the allergies got worse or if he developed asthma from breathing in the peanut dust. Her husband was going to go there for four years without them. In the end, his orders were canceled, but now he is at a standstill.
EFMP families may have to live apart, even for years at a time.
In some cases, the family will have to make a decision: Life apart for the time the service member needs to be at a particular duty station or forgo that part of their career path. In Kim’s case, she and her family decided that living apart was worth the sacrifice of being able to stay close to the medical care she and her daughter needed. Her husband has been residing in California for the last 2.5 while they have remained in Colorado. Although she was already in the EFMP system when her husband received his orders, she needed to be cleared to live in California. She says that living this way is a financial burden, but it was their choice and one they felt would be best for their family’s special needs.
You can be denied orders you need.
Not being able to go where you think you need to go or even want to go is also an issue. Ashlie, whose son is on the autism spectrum, experienced this when her husband was up for an instructor position. He was denied the position because of EFMP and was not able to move forward in his career goals. He is now at a desk job and thinking about leaving the military. They are hoping to update their EFMP paperwork as their son no long needs ABA therapy which can keep them from moving places in the future.
Sometimes EFMP can erroneously keep you from moving ahead in your career.
One of the issues with any paperwork is that it can be wrong or there can be a lot of delays because of what is on the paperwork. You might not become aware of them for a while. This can be frustrating and can lead to situations like what happened to another military spouse who wished us to keep her identity anonymous. Her husband had orders for South Korea; she and her kids were denied two weeks before his report date. They were not even able to find out why for two months and they had to reapply once he arrived in South Korea. They found out that, because it was noted that she needed monthly therapy, they couldn’t join her husband overseas. But she no longer needed the therapy at all. They eventually joined her husband after five months of waiting. She is still considered EFMP even though she no longer receives services and will be for five more years. She hopes that this will not cause any more problems in the future.
Should you not register with EFMP?
Not registering with EFMP can be a complicated issue. If at anytime you need special services, especially if they are medical, the service member could get in trouble. Even if they are not disciplined, you or your children wouldn’t be receiving needed services and that could cause long term problems down the road.
Each family will have to decide what the right thing to do is. For some, that will mean declining certain opportunities and for others, that means being apart for a set period of time. Neither choice is necessarily a good one. If things could change within the military system to make sure that all service members can get the right services for their children as well as ample opportunities to move up in their career, fewer families would have to make a choice in the first place.
Julie Provost is an associate editor at Military One Click and a National Guard spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.