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Liam Joerres, son of Col. Dave Joerres, plays during an EFMP Dinner with Sparky at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., in October.

The Defense Department is working to improve the Exceptional Family Member Program with several initiatives, a department official said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

Carolyn Stevens, director of the DoD’s Office of Military Family Readiness Policy; and Navy Capt. Edward Simmer, chief clinical officer of Tricare Health Plans at the Defense Health Agency, testified last week week on “Exceptional Family Member Program: Are the Military Services Really Taking Care of Family Members?”

EFMP has mandatory DoD enrollment and works with military and civilian agencies to provide comprehensive and coordinated community support, housing, educational, medical and personnel services around the world to military families with special needs.

DoD is aware Service members and spouses are concerned about EFMP’s management and execution, she said, acknowledging previous witness testimony.

“These personal experiences we hear about and data we collect combine to offer a broader understanding of the challenges facing our military families to help us better define our courses of action,” she said.

DoD can address some of the challenges head-on, while others, like education and off-installation services, require coordination with partners in other federal agencies, states and local education agencies, she said.

“We’re committed to balancing individual experiences with a … strategy and have placed a special focus on the results of a recent department-wide survey and the conclusions of a recent (General Accounting Office) report,” the director said.

Toward that end, Stevens said DoD has:

• Re-energized its coordinating committee for EFMP families to ensure senior executive service oversight.

• Developed and implemented a standard, EFMP family needs assessment form that allows individualized service plans.

• Developed standardized travel screening forms for family members

• Engaged with Labor Department and university partners to help develop staffing, and analyze staffing levels at each installation.

“In proving EFMP is a priority for the department, we know we have more work to do. We thank the witnesses for their appearances and for continuing to advocate for themselves and for others in this important topic,” Stevens said.

Simmer said the Defense Health Agency is committed to helping military children. “We’re committed to ensuring every military child, especially those with special needs, receives the health care services they need to reach their maximum potential,” he said.

Family readiness is a key part of Service member readiness, the captain, a psychiatrist, said.

DHA works closely with the program at the installation, service and DOD levels, he said.

DHA’s support for the program and families includes identifying and evaluating families who qualify and providing medical care and services to eligible family members. The agency also helps with assignment decisions by providing information about available medical services at potential duty locations worldwide, Simmer said.

“Despite our best efforts, however, we know we still have room for improvement,” he said. “Access to care, especially sub-specialty care, is challenging in some areas, particularly in remote areas where some of our bases are located.”