Being part of a military family is a unique lifestyle — one that comes, with many pros and cons. Now add a family member — a child, spouse, or dependent adult — with special needs into the mix.

People with special needs require more attention and resources than their peers typically need. For military families on the move every few years, this can add an extra set of challenges on top of the usual PCSing.

This is what the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) is all about. It was created by the Department of Defense (DoD) to provide families who have a special needs member with support, resources, and assistance to help them thrive. Find out what qualifies for EFMP, how you can enroll, and the benefits you and your family will enjoy.

How the Exceptional Family Member Program Helps

Navigating the world of special needs can be confusing and frustrating for non-military families. Now throw in things like deployment and constantly changing your kids’ schools. The EFMP is here to help every step of the way. There are many ways the EFMP supports you and your family.

Medical Needs

We know that having a family member with special needs usually means more medical appointments than just yearly checkups or strep tests. There are specialists, therapists, assessments, and special tests your loved one may need. EFMP offers:

  • Financial help
  • Respite service for caregivers
  • Access to quality care

With EFMP, you have an opportunity to find the best care possible for your loved one with special needs.

Educational Needs

Children with different needs may require special accommodations during their school years. These can range from assistive devices to additional time during standardized testing. EFMP offers:

  • Special education programs and services through the U.S. Department of Education
  • Transitioning special needs children after high school
  • Help from Military OneSource special needs consultants

If your child has an IEP or 504, the EFMP will make sure it’s taken into consideration before you arrive at your new PCS location. They’ll even help waive any residency requirements for public schools so you can register and submit your child’s 504 or IEP ahead of time.

Dependent Adult Care

Not all exceptional family members are children. Some are spouses, parents, or other dependent adults. EFMP offers resources to:

  • Help with Social Security benefits
  • Find assisted living facilities near you
  • Find quality home-based services, such as home health aides

EFMP Benefits

Enrolling in the EFMP offers many benefits for military families who take care of someone with special needs. But before you can take advantage of EFMP benefits, you’ll need to enroll in the program. Each branch of the military has its own (but similar) process, and enrollment is easier than you may think.

  • Army EFMP enrollment page
  • Navy EFMP enrollment page
  • Air Force EFMP information page
  • Marine Corps EFMP information page

The DoD also has a handy EFMP & Me online tool that contains checklists and 24/7 information. Once enrolled, here are some of the benefits you and your family will receive:

Assignment Coordination

Your family member’s special needs will be taken into consideration when assigning your servicemember to ensure maximum benefits and necessary resources at your new location. EFMP personnel will also help you coordinate your hand-off to the next consultant for a seamless transition.

Caregiver Support

Online and in-person support for your family, including expert consultants that can help you navigate your options, identify available resources, and get the most out of your benefits. EFMP also offers training for family members in caring for their loved ones and respite care (short-term relief) for caregivers  — because we know that caring for a family member with special needs is a rewarding (but often draining) full-time job. 

Case Management

Expert case managers work closely with your family to help you design a customized Family Services Plan that supports your non-clinical needs, such as referral services, “translating” the names of similar services across locations, benefit explanations, and filling gaps in services.

How to Enroll in EFMP

Now that you know about some of the benefits and services offered through EFMP, how can you get started in the EFMP?

First, you’ll need to check what qualifies for EFMP. Your loved one may be accepted if they have a qualifying, diagnosed physical, emotional, developmental, or intellectual disorder or condition.

Your military spouse will need to enroll using DD Form 2792, which identifies the family member with special needs and documents the qualified medical professional’s assessment. Your servicemember will also need to complete DD Form 2791-1, which is filled out by you or a school early intervention staff member.

What Else Do I Need to Know About the Exceptional Family Member Program?

A 2016 study shows that enrollment in the EFMP had little to no negative impact on a Marine’s career or promotions. Marines enrolled in the EFMP enjoyed longer careers than their non-EFMP peers. Enrolling in EFMP can help everyone.

The non-profit organization P.R.O.M.I.S.E. (Protecting the Rights Of Military Children in Special Education) was created in 2020 to offer help and support specifically to military families with children who require special education. They offer tons of helpful resources and support!

Understanding and navigating military programs can feel overwhelming. SpouseLink is proud to be a resource to the MilSpouse community. 

Resources and Insights for Special Needs Families:

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