LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --
Moving to a new base can be stressful, especially for those who have a special needs family member. Thankfully, the Air Force has a program called the Exceptional Family Member Program to assist with those transitions.
While EFMP can be confusing to those who are new to the program, there are two people at Little Rock Air Force Base who can help: the family support coordinator and the special needs coordinator.
Located in the Airman and Family Readiness Center is the family support coordinator Steve Jones. Jones helps facilitate the EFMP support group, where families can find information and connect with other families who share similar struggles.
“It’s always good to have people who they can bounce ideas off of, share experiences, and create those relationships,” Jones said.
Another area the family support coordinator helps with is to provide information and referrals to assist families with finding services, as well as coordinate events for the families to enjoy.
“We provide activities for the families to get together and just relax,” Jones said. “The big events like the carnival, put everybody on an even keel, and there’s always an activity for everyone, so their kids can have fun and can feel like they’re not any different than other kids.”
Some activities families participate in are paint nights, therapeutic horseback riding, fishing derby and dance parties.
“We went to the dance party that EFMP hosted and our son had a blast,” said Mae Stephenson, parent of a child enrolled in the EFMP program. “We met some new families as well. Overall, we had a great time.”
Katrina Horn, the special needs coordinator, is located inside the 19th Medical Group Pediatric Clinic. She reaches out to EFMP families when they first arrive to LRAFB and assists with new enrollments.
“When someone is getting ready to PCS here, we review their paperwork and make sure we are able to accommodate the family coming here,” Horn said. “Once they arrive, we ask them to check in with EFMP; otherwise we don’t know they are here and that can cause a gap in services their family member is receiving.”
Sometimes a member may be turned down for an assignment if the area cannot support the services the family member requires.
“When an Airman has their orders changed, it’s because (the new base) doesn’t have the services available that their family member needs,” Horn said. “Can you truly focus on the mission if you’re worried about your family member’s required care and they cannot get it? It’s doing the member a disservice, and it’s not doing the Air Force any good.”
Ensuring quality service members with exceptional family members are retained is a priority to the Air Force.
There are multiple programs available to help families enrolled under EFMP. The Air Force offers respite care, which can provide up to 40 hours per month of care for the family member. This is in addition to Tricare Echo, Medicaid and state programs such as the Tax Equality and Fiscal Responsibility Act for those living in Arkansas.
“If a family member needs additional medical equipment or services, such as applied behavioral analysis, these programs helps cover added costs,” Jones said. “This is just one of the many struggles our families face because the copays and costs of medical equipment can cause a financial strain.”
In addition to financial struggles special needs families may face, there also can be the time management difficulties, lack of medical providers, and social strife. While these obstacles can be a recipe for failure, a support group can provide much-needed assistance.
“It can be difficult to find people to talk to,” Jones said. “Not many understand what it’s like having a special needs child, and finding someone you connect with who won’t judge you can be very difficult at times, which is why we offer our support group.”
The Air Force understands the struggles of the support required for these families. As of December 2018, there were 31,549 members Q-coded, meaning they had a family member enrolled in the EFMP program.
With so many family members enrolled in EFMP, how can local leaders support their Airmen with the struggles they’re facing?
“Supervisors need to get to know their Airmen,” Jones said. “Everyone needs to understand even a simple trip to the grocery store can be challenging.”
Building a compassionate and understanding relationship will go a long way with supporting an EFMP family.