The Department of Defense’s (DOD) most valuable assets are its warfighters and their families. Consequently, the DOD has taken steps to ensure that military families are given the support that they need in order to accomplish the mission. One of the DOD’s most important programs for achieving this goal is the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). Originally started by the U.S. Army in 1979, the EFMP serves military families with special needs dependents by ensuring that service members with exceptional family members (EFMs) are stationed at or near installations where necessary medical, mental health, or educational resources are available for their EFM dependents. The EFM Program does not preclude members from sea duty, normal sea/shore rotation, unaccompanied assignments, Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) Support Assignments (GSA), standing watches, or performing normally assigned duties. However, the program does ensure that servicemembers are assigned to the geographic areas where the medical and educational needs of their family can be met. In order to maximize the coverage and effectiveness of the program, enrollment in EFMP is mandatory for servicemembers whose dependents are eligible for EFM classification.
EFM Enrollment, Categorization, and Support
The EFMP was established by the Navy in compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq., and its administration in the Navy is controlled by MILPERSMAN 1300-700. The program essentially consists of two core components: EFM enrollment and EFM categorization.
The Navy Medical Corps is responsible for identifying family members who qualify for EFM classification. A family member will qualify for EFM classification when they have a chronic medical, mental, or special education need or condition. A condition will be considered chronic for EFM purposes when the condition is expected to last for six months or longer. Some conditions may require enrollment in the program on a temporary basis of 6-12 months.
Once a Navy doctor has identified a dependent as having a chronic condition, their sponsoring service member is required to complete DD 2792, “Exceptional Family Member Medical Summary” and appropriate addenda and DD 2792-1, “Exceptional Family Member Special Education/Early Intervention Summary”, to enroll the family member into the program. The family member’s military or civilian medical provider will fill out the medical summary portion of DD 2792. This medical summary is mandatory for children who are being enrolled in the program. Servicemembers can receive enrollment assistance from the medical facility’s EFM Program Coordinator. The EFM Program Coordinator must also sign all paperwork.
After the forms are completed, the servicemember with the assistance of their local EFM program coordinator will forward the forms to a Central Screening Committee (CSC). There are three different Central Screening Committees, and each is responsible for reviewing referrals in their specific geographic region. Members with EFMs who reside east of the Mississippi; in the European, South American, Middle Eastern, and African areas; and in the Atlantic/Caribbean region submit their forms to the CSC in Portsmouth, Virginia. Members with EFMs who reside west of the Mississippi in CONUS, Canada, and Alaska submit theirs to the CSC in San Diego, CA. Finally, members with EFMs who reside in countries in the South Pacific, Asia, and Hawaii forward their submissions to the CSC located in Yokosuka, Japan.
The CSCs are responsible for validating the appropriateness of a family member’s enrollment in the program and, most critically, for categorizing the family members who are accepted into the program based on the severity of their condition. Where an EFM’s needs are not severe but warrant enrollment in the event of an acute exacerbation, the EFM should be placed in Category 1 (enrollment for monitoring purposes). Where an EFM’s Care is usually available at most locations, except for some isolated CONUS/overseas areas, the EFM should be placed in Category 2 (limited overseas/remote CONUS assignments). If the EFM’s medical or educational needs preclude assignment to overseas locations, they should be placed into Category 3 (no overseas assignments). When the EFM’s medical condition requires assignment to billets near major medical facilities, they should be placed in Category 4 (major medical areas within CONUS only). When the family member's needs are complex, and permanent change of station (PCS) moves could disrupt the continuity of care (which could jeopardize the EFM's health) the EFM will be placed in Category 5 (Homestead Program). Homestead Program members should receive a long-term assignment to an area that can support multiple sea/shore rotations. Category 6 (temporary category) is for EFMs whose condition requires a stable environment for 6-12 months due to treatment or ongoing diagnostic testing. Category 6 also applies to those who have been identified through overseas screening as having chronic needs but have not submitted an enrollment package.
How RLSO Legal Assistance Offices Can Help EFMP Families
According to the Congressional Research Service, the Navy has more than 20,000 EFMP enrolled dependents as of 2020. The families of every single one of these dependents face unique and difficult legal challenges. Military families frequently move and are often unfamiliar with the area in which they live. As such, they may have trouble finding a school or medical facility that can effectively meet the needs of a family member with special needs. Transient military life can also leave servicemembers and their children liable to education or medical discrimination from unscrupulous institutions that are willing to simply wait out the family rather than fulfill their legal obligations to them.
Fortunately, the Navy JAG Corp’s Region Legal Service Offices (RLSOs) are here to help. Legal Assistance (LA) attorneys at the RLSOs can advise service members on their housing, educational, medical, and privacy rights and those of their families, as well as provide advice on common legal issues that arise in cases where a service member has an EFM dependent. LA attorneys can also draft powers of attorney (POAs) for an EFM dependent in order to give their family the power to take care of their finances or medical needs, as long as the individual is competent enough to consent to the grant of power. While RLSO attorneys are unable to represent clients directly in court, they are able to help service members understand the litigation process, timeline, and how to file a case. In some cases, RLSO LA attorneys can refer clients to private or volunteer attorneys who specialize in disability law.
While the RLSOs advise service members out of court, the Navy has also developed a 3-year EFMP Legal Assistance Pilot Program, in compliance with the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The EFMP Pilot Program consists of two disability and special education law subject matter experts (SMEs), located in Norfolk and San Diego, who can provide direct, in-court legal services to EFMP families in the jurisdiction wherein they are licensed. SMEs further supplement the RLSOs by serving as resources for the LA attorneys and clients to consult when dealing with cases involving the IDEA, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Service members are encouraged to contact their nearest RLSO’s LA Department and inquire about our services.