Wait, the EFMP is for us?
We’re in the process of getting our daughter enrolled in the military’s Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), and I thought it might be helpful if we shared a little about our journey. The EFMP is an extensive program, and one with which I’m trying to familiarize myself. At the outset, it can seem pretty intimidating. (I would know…I’m on it!)
When I first learned about the EFMP, I was familiar with its function primarily in the lives of families with Autism or disabilities. Still, I didn’t understand the extent of its assistance. Now, however, that my daughter is being enrolled, I’m learning more. And I’m liking what I see.
For those of you who have been following my blog for a while, I wrote about how we had a sleep test done on our baby daughter last year to test for seizures because she was jerking so hard in her sleep. What they found wasn’t seizures, but what are called Benign Myoclonic Jerks. Not harmful (hence, “benign”), but certainly enough to wake her up from her deep sleep.
There was another additional cause considered as well though, and that was acid reflux.
Fast forward nine months later, and the acid reflux has continued to rear its ugly head. We’ve had The Fairy on medication for months, and while it has seemed to help, and the jerking has all but disappeared, we’ve found that the reflux is causing more problems than we initially thought.
The Fairy has choked on everything since she was born. Breastmilk, water, food, and even her own spit. At her twelve month checkup, her pediatrician decided to get a swallow study done, and the swallow study revealed that her reflux has been coming up her throat and enflaming not only the muscles in her throat, but the flap that covers the airway. This means that it can’t shut properly, thus, causing her to choke.
The radiologist was very helpful, and gave us some recommendations for thickening her liquids and making sure her medication dosage is consistent with her weight as she grows. She also said that The Fairy needs to have another swallow study done next year.
“That way,” she said, “we can see if she’s improving any, or if we need to continue treating her the way we are now.”
Knowing this was great, but being a military family posed a potential problem. What if we moved? And what if the place we moved to didn’t have a place that could conduct a swallow study for her?
Cue our pediatrician!
Our pediatrician (whom I love) agreed with the radiologist, and went a step further.
“If it’s alright with you, I would like to get her enrolled in the EFMP,” she told me. “That way, when the Air Force transfers you, you’ll be sure to go to a location that can give her the swallow study that she needs.”
Well, we’re obviously going to do whatever we need to get our daughter the help that she needs. But, I wondered, how exactly would we go about doing that? I didn’t know much about the EFMP aside from their support for more severe struggles that come with Autism and physical disabilities. How could they help us with reflux?
Starting the Process
The military has a lot of great programs available to support its family members, but it’s not always the best at making those programs easy to find. Sure, I had heard about the program before, but you don’t know you need it until you need it, right?
After the pediatrician began the paperwork, my husband (who loathes paperwork) brought three sets of paperwork home that we needed to fill out. As we started to fill them out (which, in typical Air Force style, had 50 million acronyms that I needed to look up), I realized many of the boxes needed to be filled out by her medical provider. So I decided to call our clinic back to see what to do next.
Gee, I thought to myself, it would be nice to know what I was doing more than simply being told to hand paperwork to the next person in line. Isn’t there a way to know what I’m actually working towards? Where I’m going?
Calling in Reinforcements
Note: Don’t do what I did and call the local clinic’s automated system to hit the wrong button four times in a row, only to listen a fifth time and realize your option was the next button.
Once I actually listened to the entire automated message, I realized there was an option for the EFMP. *Facepalm*
The woman who answered the phone was kind and courteous. Not only did she want me to turn the paper into the clinic, and explain how to do that, but she asked me to stop by and visit her personally so she could get to know us better.
I nearly fell over in shock. For those of you not familiar with the military system, many of the people are nice, but under-staffing and lots of legal paperwork means few people have time to meet face-to-face. It’s much easier just to email.
And less likely to get personal.
So after filling out the paperwork the best we knew how, The Fairy and I went to the woman’s office. Nervous, I dressed up in my best blue jeans and a nice top, complete with hair pulled up, jewelry and make-up on, and even wore my non-sneakers. I wanted the woman to take me seriously.
There were no need for my nerves though. The woman was just as courteous and professional in person as she was on the phone. She went through the paperwork and marked where we needed to sign and what else we had missed, then told me we would be having a family meeting that included one of the head medical staffers at the clinic.
Leaving the clinic, I felt much better. I had someone I trusted working on my daughter’s paperwork, and the ball was rolling. Still, I didn’t feel completely comfortable on the path we were walking because…well, we didn’t know where the path was going. It’s one thing to have people tell you what the next step is. It’s another to see a comprehensive map that includes the whole journey, or at least, the major mile markers.
It was time, once again, to find more support.
These are facts about the EFMP that I had, and the answers I was given, based on personal questions and resource material I was provided. It’s not a comprehensive overview by any means, just a way to get started.
Q1: What is the EFMP?
A1: “The Exceptional Famiyl member Program (EFMP) supports military families with special medical and educational needs.
Q2: How does the EFMP work?
A2: There are three branches to the EFMP:
- Identification and Enrollment – According to the gentleman who helped me, this is the group, including people such as my daughter’s pediatrician, who identify needs and begin the enrollment process.
- Assignment Coordination – These are the people in charge of making sure your service member gets assignments that have all of the needed support accessible to the family member with special needs. (Personal Note: We knew a family at our last base who was assigned to go to Hawaii, but had their assignment changed three times because the Air Force realized that necessary support for their son wasn’t available in Hawaii.)
- Family Support – The gentleman I talked to yesterday told me that this was his area of expertise. From sending out monthly emails telling his EFMP families about upcoming events, to setting up local fun days for the families, to keeping track of EFMP families who leave and enter the base so he can contact the right people to help them. This, seems to me, to be the human behind all of the paperwork.
Q3: Who can be a family member with special needs?
A3: “Spouse, child, or dependent adult who, regardless of age, has special medical needs and…[children] (birth through 21 years) with special educational needs who is [are] eligible for, or receives…[lists educational services].”
*Sources: The EFMP handouts pictured in the image at the top of this post. If you would like to receive the same handout, visit your family resource center on base or post, or ask around at your local military clinic.
Resources to Begin:
I know it can be overwhelming when you first find out that your child might need extra assistance. (I know because literally last week, I Googled, “Exceptional Family Member Program,” and was so overwhelmed that I gave up until I could talk to someone. If you need help learning about the EFMP, I would first suggest going to your local family resources on base or on post. But in the meantime, here are the respective places you might want to start.
Do you have experience with the Exceptional Family Member Program? I’d love to hear what you have to say. Just share in the Comment Box below! Also, if you’re interested in getting updates on posts, as well as a free resource guide, subscribe for free to my email list! As always, thanks for reading!