As the branch manager of the Fort Hood Exceptional Family Member Program, Dr. Thomas Jones is passionate about helping military families with exceptional needs, which is why he is doing everything he can to remain in contact with the Fort Hood families who use the EFMP services during this time.
“Obviously, right now there’s an increase in stress and with the EFM not going to the day programs or school, there would be a higher degree of stress and frustration on the part of the parents,” Jones said. “The biggest challenge is being aware that, unfortunately, some of our families may be in situations where they need to reach out to us, but they haven’t.”
EFMP is a non-profit service through Fort Hood’s Army Community Service and the Fort Hood’s Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation, designed to help dependent family members with ongoing medical, mental health or special education needs. Jones said Fort Hood currently has more than 4,500 people eligible for EFMP services, however, they are set up to serve 64 people at any given time. He said they help eligible people with medical, housing and educational needs.
“The EFMP is so important because it’s a program designed to specifically help our families with special needs,” Donna Morrisey, director of ACS, said about the service. “Our program is able to educate families as they navigate the resources available to their family members.”
To help mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19, ACS has closed their offices to the public, while most of the employees work from home. Jones said his team of systems navigators, who go out and conduct non-clinical case work, are currently operating from their homes. Although they have not been able to see clients face-to-face, they have been reaching out to families via telephone or email.
Jones explained they are even helping clear Soldiers separating from the Army virtually. He said since they still need to clear the installation, they just need to call the EFMP office, as opposed to coming into the office, and they will clear them from their computer.
Jones said he knows some people do not have a strong support system, so if they find themselves overwhelmed with stress, reach out and call EFMP or other organizations where they can be open and honest about the stress they’re feeling. He also recommends parents to find the time to take a break and relax.
“By maintaining or developing a schedule that has family activities to look forward to while also allowing some much needed ‘me time’ can be healthy and helpful,” Jones said.
He said despite not working together face-to-face at the moment, his office is hard at work planning for events through the end of the year. Some of the upcoming events include a bike-a-thon with EFMs and Wounded Warriors, an arts and crafts day, the annual Special Olympics Bowling competition in November and a winter festival in December.
“We’re still looking at activities to bring our families out and give them some normalization,” Jones said, looking to a post-COVID world.
Looking at the positive side of things, Jones said one thing COVID-19 has done is bring people closer together – while social distancing. He said within ACS, he has witnessed the offices all come together as a larger team in helping one another.
“You can get trapped into doing your piece of the pie,” he said, “but we have pulled together and really have helped one another out.”
Soldiers with eligible family members are required to register their family members for EFMP and keep their enrollment status current. For information about registering for EFMP on Fort Hood call 254-288-8099. For all other inquiries, call 254-287-6070.