When I first heard about the Exceptional Family Member Program, I had no idea what it was.

The word “exceptional” made me think that perhaps it was a program for Family members who had accomplished something great. When I learned that the program supports Family members who have special needs, I understood the true significance of the word.

Navigating the Army is a difficult process for anyone. It can become even more arduous when Families must consider caring for and finding resources for a special needs Family member. If the Family is assigned to a location that doesn’t offer appropriate services for the special needs Family member, it could cause a host of problems.

That’s where the EFMP comes in.

The program provides duty-assignment coordination to avoid sending Families to locations that do not have the appropriate medical or educational services they need. It also provides support by helping them find and coordinate community, education, medical, housing and personnel services.

Exceptional Family members are members of a military Family, adults or children, who have a physical, emotional, developmental, or intellectual disorder that requires special treatment, therapy, education, training, or counseling, and meets the eligibility criteria.

Soldiers who have a special needs Family member are required to register for EFMP and keep enrollment information current. This information is considered during the assignment process within the continental United States.

The Army created the program in the early 1980s to consider the needs of Family members when assigning Soldiers to duty locations.

About 10 percent of active-duty Soldiers have Family members who have special needs.

EFMP is split up into two categories — special medical needs and special educational needs.

Many people may be eligible for the program and not even know it. Some conditions for eligibility include Family members with autism, down syndrome, cancer patients, sickle cell patients, those with insulin-dependent diabetes and those with current and chronic mental health conditions, such as bi-polar or major affective disorder may be eligible. A listing of more specific criteria is available at http://efmp.amedd.army.mil/enrollment/criteria.html.

In addition to considering the needs of EFMs during the duty station assignment process, the EFMP offers information, referrals and parent support such as educational workshops and recreational activities, on- and off-post support groups, relocation services, support counseling, respite care services, administrative assistance with deletions and deferments of assignments and more.

At Fort Bragg, the Autism Spectrum Disorders Parent Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month, from 8:30 to 10 a.m., at the Linden Oaks clubhouse at (multi-purpose room). For additional details, call 907-5624.

The Down Syndrome Support Group meets the third Thursday of each month, from 10:30 a.m. to noon, at the Ardennes Community Center. For additional details, call 643-7517.

For more information about EFMP, call 907-3395 or visit https://bragg.armymwr.com/us/bragg/programs/efmp.

(If you have a question about the military or Fort Bragg you would like me to answer, email me at mankelg@theparaglide.com.)