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Immediate Release

New Defense Department Policy Standardizes Exceptional Family Member Program Across the Services

The Defense Department has enacted changes to ensure consistency across the service branches for military families with special needs. Previously each service set its own processes and guidelines because there wasn't standard policy guidance from the department.

The DOD Office of Special Needs has enhanced the Exceptional Family Member Program to improve the experience of military families while creating consistency across EFMP.

"This is exciting news for families enrolled in EFMP," said Patricia Montes Barron, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military and Community Family Policy. "These enhancements demonstrate that we are listening and focusing on ways to help families thrive in military life."

"Service members can't focus on the mission when they have concerns about a family member's health or education needs," said Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr., Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. "Enrollment in EFMP provides families access to critical services and support, no matter their service branch or location. We will continue our work to enhance EFMP to better serve our military families."

Families enrolled in EFMP will see standardization-driven changes in the following areas:

  • Identification and enrollment. This is the point of entry into EFMP. When a family member is identified as having special medical or education needs, medical services will coordinate the documentation of those needs and the family's enrollment in the EFMP. Standardization of identification and enrollment ensures the process is consistent for families across services. Enrollment in EFMP is mandatory for active-duty military members who meet enrollment criteria.
  • Assignment coordination. This ensures the family's special needs are considered during the assignment process. Enhancements include each service branch using the same criteria for determining the availability of services, and the ability for service members to request a second review of assignment decisions. Importantly, service members now learn the reason for declined orders.
  • Family Support. EFMP Family Support providers enable families to become their own best advocate by helping them identify and connect with resources, expert consultations, education and community support. There is now a requirement for EFMP Family Support providers to complete at least one annual personal contact with each family assigned to their caseload.
  • Disenrollment. The revised policy provides guidance and transparency regarding the process and requirements for disenrollment that were not part of the previous DOD issuance. The policy standardizes how families are instructed to disenroll and how EFMP staff will monitor the process.
  • Respite care. Respite care provides short-term relief for primary caregivers. Although the policy has changed, the changes will be gradual and implemented through a phased approach to ensure each family's needs are met. Revisions include:
    • Providing a consistent number of respite care hours across the services (20 or 32 hours per month as determined by the level of need). Depending on the service branch, hours will increase for some families and decrease for others.
    • Creating a standard mechanism for determining eligibility for respite care across the services.
    • Covering adult dependents who are now eligible for respite care.
    • Eliminating the impact of external respite care on family eligibility for EFMP respite care.
    • Giving families the ability to request additional services based on exceptional circumstances.

"The Office of Special Needs updated the respite care policy but all changes will be gradual. We will phase them in as we work with each family over time to make sure we address all concerns," said Tomeshia Barnes, associate director, Office of Special Needs. "OSN's focus is to meet the needs of the military families we serve and work to continually update and enhance the EFMP policy."

Families can often access additional family support resources within the Military Family Readiness System. These resources can help families navigate services and gain direct connections to the support they need.

OSN is committed to increasing transparency and providing families with the resources and tools they need to navigate the program. OSN strives to achieve this priority through strategic communications including the EFMP Family Support Feedback Tool, the online tool EFMP & Me, the Office of Special Needs EFMP podcast series and the Exceptional Advocate quarterly eNewsletter.  

About Military Community and Family Policy

Military Community and Family Policy is directly responsible for establishing and overseeing quality-of-life policies and programs, such as the Office of Special Needs, that help our service members, their families and survivors be well and mission-ready. Military OneSource is the gateway to programs and services that support the everyday needs of the 5.2 million service members and immediate family members of the military community. These DOD services can be accessed 24/7/365 around the world.