What You Should Know About Updates to the Exceptional Family Member Program

What You Should Know About Updates to the Exceptional Family Member Program
Children decorate bags during the Exceptional Family Member Program’s day camp at Naval Support Activity Mid-South in Millington, Tenn., on July 21. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin Collins/Navy)

DoD released its much-anticipated Instruction for the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), DD 1315.19, in June in an effort to improve and standardize processes across all military service branches.


So far, the reviews are mixed.


While some changes are happening behind the scenes, such as improved oversight/monitoring and clear assignment of stakeholder responsibilities, military families should be aware of several key updates that will directly impact them ... for better or worse.


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MOAA has supported numerous legislative initiatives and policy changes, in alignment with efforts from Partners in PROMISE, to enhance quality of life for EFMP families. Recognizing the significant challenges EFMP families face, MOAA continues to work to enhance the program for all participants. 


Why Were Changes Made?

For years, EFMP families have voiced dissatisfaction with the program and its variability. Military families have shared that PCS transitions are difficult due to the lack of available medical and education services at new assignments, despite being enrolled in the program.


These challenges have been highlighted in Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports, congressional hearings and audits by the DoD Inspector General over the past decade. In February 2020, I testified alongside a representative from MOAA and other advocates before Congress about EFMP family experiences, which led to sweeping provisions in the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to mandate standardization and address documented shortfalls of the program.


[MOAA CHANGEMAKERS: Michelle Norman]


What Can We Expect?

While the new instruction addresses many areas, below are a few notable changes important for EFMP families.


Standardized enrollment and disenrollment procedures. The process for enrollment is now more transparent. The instruction includes an Identification and Enrollment Process Map that shows the direct referral process from a Military Health System provider, DoDEA representative, or Early Intervention Services representative if they suspect the need for enrollment. It is still up to the servicemember to initiate the EFMP enrollment process for families who are enrolled in TRICARE Select and/or not directly referred.


An entire new section is devoted to disenrollment. Families have reported difficulties in disenrolling for short-term conditions; this update should make the process easier for the servicemember to initiate.


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Formalized warm handoff process during PCS moves between EFMP offices. Partners in PROMISE survey data show families are reporting delays in receiving medical care (4.25 months) and special education support and services (5.75 months) after a PCS move. The new formalized warm handoff is a voluntary process which should help.


Once a servicemember reaches out to their local EFMP Family Support Office with their next set of orders, the family support provider will create or update their Family Needs Assessment and then coordinate with the gaining EFMP Family Support Office to ensure their family’s needs are met. This is especially helpful for military families who have requirements for on-base housing or respite care, which typically involve waitlists. 


Standardized Respite Care program based on level of need. The new EFMP Respite Care program may be a win or loss for military families. The new policy is using a Level of Needs rubric for eligibility. Level 3 (moderate/trained support needed) and Level 4 (severe/nursing support needed) are eligible for 20 hours and 32 hours of respite care, respectively. For the Navy and Air Force, this will result in a reduction of care from 40 hours a month. However, Marine Corps (20 hours/month) and Army families (25 hours/month) may benefit from this new system, depending on the level of care their child requires.


The good news is that there is a provision for service branches to establish a policy allowing requests for additional respite care for exceptional circumstances. Since the new Respite Care Program is to be implemented by the end of FY 2024, military families should engage with their respective service branch EFMP leadership now while EFMP and respite care policies are being developed.


Change may be slow, but these improvements reflect the efforts of many parents and advocates, many of whom have long retired. If you are enrolled in the EFMP program, I encourage you to share your family’s experiences with DoD leaders. This program is critical in improving quality of life and military readiness for all exceptional military families who are willing to serve.


If you want to learn more about EFMP, connect online with Partners in PROMISE.


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About the Author

Michelle Norman
Michelle Norman

Michelle Norman is a former member of MOAA's Currently Serving Spouse Advisory Council. She is the executive director of Partners in PROMISE.