DoD's Failure to Standardize Exceptional Family Member Program Leaves Gaps in Services, Watchdog Finds

A girl smiles at her kitty cat face
A girl smiles at her kitty cat face at a Child Find/Exceptional Family Member Program fair, Oct. 1, 2011, at Marrington Plantation, Joint Base Charleston-Weapons Station. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Chrissy Powers)

The Pentagon has yet to implement all recommendations for improving its Exceptional Family Member Program across the military services, a shortcoming that could leave families with special needs at installations that lack the facilities or specialties required for medical care and support.

The office responsible for developing and implementing the program's policies -- the Office of Special Needs -- has failed to collect detailed data, such as installation-specific information, needed for families and assignments personnel to make informed decisions, according to the Defense Department Office of the Inspector General.

The Exceptional Family Member Program is a mandatory program for service members who have a dependent spouse or child with special needs, such as complex medical requirements or a developmental or physical disability that necessitates services tailored to their needs.

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The program aims to ensure that these families have access to medical care and educational support, housing and other specialized services.

"If the [Office of Special Needs] cannot perform appropriate assessments, then military families in the [program] could be relocated to installations without the medical services they need," inspector general auditors wrote in a report released last week.

The IG said that could affect military readiness, as it adds stress on troops and their families struggling to find care and may require them to move again.

Congress mandated in the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act that the DoD standardize the EFMP program. Previously, the military services each were responsible for their own programs, which serve roughly 104,000 active-duty personnel and their families.

The DoD published standardization guidance in June that established enrollment processes and required a handoff from one installation's program management team to another as service members move to new duty stations.

The new guidance also ensures that families enrolled in the program are contacted at least once a year and spells out requirements for eligibility, disenrollment, respite care and more.

The standardization requirement stemmed from years of complaints by families of inconsistencies in the program and the availability of medical treatment and special education at various bases.

The program is designed to ensure that families with special needs get the support and care they need to improve the overall well-being of the family.

The OIG made seven recommendations to the DoD to improve the program, including suggestions for better data collection, improved information technology systems to support the program, and better data reliability.

With the publication of its new guidance in June, the DoD has fulfilled some of the recommendations and has plans to implement more, such as introducing a new IT system by 2025.

The OIG said it would consider all recommendations as pending until all requirements are met and asked the department to respond within 30 days.

"Until the [Office of Special Needs] standardizes the EFMP, including collecting the data and metrics needed, the [Office of Special Needs] will not be able to assess the effectiveness of the program, fully identify gaps in medical and education services, or implement associated improvements at specific installations," the IG concluded.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at

Related: Advocates Say More Change Is Needed After Pentagon Releases New Exceptional Family Member Plan

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