FORT POLK, La. - At Fort Polk, Michelle Washam, Exceptional Family Member Program systems navigator, strives to give a voice to military families that have family members with special needs.
EFMP is a military-wide resource for families with Exceptional Family Members who have any physical, emotional, developmental or intellectual disorders requiring special treatment, therapy, education, training or counseling. Soldiers with EFMs are required to enroll in EFMP.
The program provides support to these families to make sure the needs of their EFMs are met at their duty station, including education, medical, housing and personnel services.
"I'm able to help families navigate through the available systems of care," Washam said.
The Fort Polk EFMP also hosts support groups and special events for its families.
"They are opportunities for families to get together and network with each other," Washam said.
Washam said her focus is on advocating for the families she serves, especially when it comes to education.
She is able to attend Individualized Education Program meetings at the local schools with EFMP families, as well as assist them with questions and concerns - whether that be if they think their child is falling behind in school or if they are wondering if their child qualifies for special education.
"If they have questions, they are welcome to come to the Fort Polk Army Community Service Center, and I'd be glad to walk them through the process of requesting an IEP evaluation," she said.
Washam said soldiers and their family members do not have to be enrolled in EFMP to ask her questions.
According to Washam, the advocacy and resources offered through EFMP are crucial to military families, especially as they move to different duty stations.
"As families transition between different installations in different states, everyone is regulated by federal mandates but there are also state mandates," Washam said. "Things sometimes are handled differently in between the states. Systems navigators are knowledgable about how that works and we can teach families to advocate for themselves and inform them about the process."
Washam's priority is for the EFMP families to feel supported throughout their time at Fort Polk.
"I hope these families I have helped can walk away having learned how to advocate for themselves and their EFMs," Washam said.