Although there is no Department of Defense (DoD) policy that directs the military Services to establish an Exceptional Family Member Program, the DoD does provide guidance, assigns responsibilities and prescribes procedures for authorizing family member travel at government expense for all active duty Service members who meet the established DoD criteria for identifying a family member with special needs.
Primary considerations in assigning a Service member are the Service member’s current qualifications and ability to fill a valid requirement. Other factors such as availability, volunteer status, time on station and other criteria are secondary. For additional information about each Service’s Exceptional Family Member Program, please see the next section.
Accompanied travel overseas may be denied if the services to meet the special medical needs of the family member are unavailable. The military Services have flexibility when determining screening procedures when assigning a family member with special needs to geographic areas that are not considered overseas. Service members may not be denied an essential overseas duty assignment solely because they have children who are or may be eligible for early intervention services (EIS) or special education services.
Assignment Process for Sponsors with Exceptional Family Members
The Department of Defense (DoD) published DoD Instruction 1315.19 “Authorizing Special Needs Family Members Travel Overseas at Government Expense.” This instruction assigns responsibilities, and prescribes procedures for authorizing family member travel at government expense for active duty Service members who are assigned overseas and who have family members that meet the Department of Defense criteria for identifying a family member with special needs. The DoD Instruction 1315.19 also provides guidance for processing civilian employees who have family members with special needs for an overseas assignment.
Note: Since the EFMP impacts where families are placed, once enrolled in EFMP, the service member might inadvertently be limited as to which assignments are offered to them. Some families unfortunately find that enrollment in EFMP can indeed affect career progression, as the service member is not always able to take assignments that would keep their careers moving forward. To avoid this issue, the service member could go on an assignment separately, but in some branches, the family would only be eligible for one Basic Allowance for Housing in that case, which is worth keeping in mind. Families can also sometimes appeal decisions if they feel their loved one would be supported in locations they have been denied.
EFMP offices also do not take into account waitlists (which can extend into years at some locations), quality of care, or the number of providers when considering available medical care in an area. EFMP also does not take into account area schools or the special education needs of families. This can lead to a PCS to a location that cannot support the Exceptional Family Member (EFM). Because of these possible trouble spots, families should begin planning for PCS moves as soon as possible. See the “Transitions” section for more guidance.
Informing Your Command
Having a child with autism immediately impacts the family, parental roles, and the amount of time one or both parents will need to dedicate toward the child’s development and treatment regimen. Simply put, there will be times when the military parent’s presence is necessary for the best interest of the child. It is important then to inform supervisors and leaders in your command about your child’s diagnosis and its implications with respect to your duty assignment and responsibilities. If you anticipate needing to take time off or modify your schedule for any reason, be sure to make your request as early as possible to allow the best opportunity for your command to react and adjust schedules as needed.
Click here to download tips and guidance for informing your command of your child’s autism diagnosis.