What Happens If We Don't Register With the EFMP?

A child displays rainbow artwork in their window.
A child of a U.S. Air Force Airman displays rainbow artwork in their window in Liberty Village at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. (Jessi Monte/U.S. Air Force)

My son has some minor special health needs, and I heard that I'm supposed to register him in the military's Exceptional Family Member Program.

But I also heard that if I do that, my husband's career could suffer and that we could be limited on where we can move with the military.

Is that true? Will we get in trouble if we don't register him? 

The last thing any of us wants to do is hurt our spouse's military career by admitting to having family health, learning or mental challenges. And "registering" those problems with the military just seems a little brutal, doesn't it?

The Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) was created by the DoD to help make sure that families with health, learning or mental challenges -- big or small -- didn't get stationed somewhere that didn't have the services they need. Really, it is meant to be helpful. And for most users, especially those with really major challenges, it is.

But like all "helpful" programs, sometimes EFMP just creates extra red tape for military families who are trying to use it. So let's talk first about how the program is supposed to work, and then we'll dive into what actually might happen.

The EFMP program was developed in 2005 to make sure military family members with chronic conditions or serious learning challenges are stationed places where they can get the help they need.

The DoD has a broad list of all the different challenges that qualify family members for the EFMP. It includes big things like chronic conditions, in-patient or intensive out-patient mental health services in the last five years and serious asthma. It also includes smaller things like use of specialists more than two times a year for a continuing condition and any kind of education challenges that require a special school plan.

When you register yourself or your child in the EFMP program and fill out forms DD 2792, "Family Member Medical Summary," and perhaps DD 2792-1, "Special Education/Early Intervention Summary," you help the DoD make sure it doesn't send you somewhere that can't support your issues. To make sure of this, your accepting duty station must sign-off on new families enrolled in EFMP before they go there.

Being in the program isn't supposed to influence your spouse's career, DoD officials said. And if it does, your service member could always move to a new place without you, they said.

"The Exceptional Family Member Program exists to help families be stationed in locations where services are available to them," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a DoD spokesman. "The service member always has the option of requesting an unaccompanied assignment to any location."

But the truth is, depending on your troop's branch or specialty, having limited duty assignments because of a family member's health condition really could impact future opportunities. If that is the case, your options are to register and risk career impact because you want to stay together as a family; become geographical bachelors so that your service member can get stationed wherever he or she wants; or simply ignore the rules and don't register as EFMP.

DoD officials won't tell you that not registering is an option, and here's why: Failing to register can come with its own batch of possibly serious consequences.

Let's say your child has chronic asthma that has put him in the emergency room once or twice, but you've had it under control for a while. Per the EFMP guidelines, you're supposed to register him. What happens if you don't?

No, black-clad ninjas will not fast-rope from your ceiling to arrest you. But if you move to a new duty station that is not equipped to handle your needs and you or your child becomes ill or suddenly needs those services, your service member could be subject to disciplinary action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, according to a defense official. That's because officials consider not registering for EFMP if you qualify as a failure to provide required information or as knowingly providing false information.

That means not registering is a huge risk. And since the program is designed to make life easier, not harder, we suggest you seriously weigh the cost benefit of that if you decide to go that direction. 

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