The U.S. military’s Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) has discreetly extended aid to military families with dependents seeking gender transition services, a deviation from its original intent to support families with special needs.
Under the EFMP, the military has facilitated special assignments for servicemembers, allowing their dependents to access gender transition services. However, the recent introduction of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2024 by Republican Rep. Ralph Norman (SC) could prohibit the DOD from utilizing the EFMP for gender transition services.
Norman stated that “allowing ANY type of gender transition procedures through the EFMP goes against the intention for the program,” which was initially designed to provide vital resources for service members’ families with special needs and chronic conditions.
However, the provision’s fate is uncertain, as no companion amendment exists in the Senate version of the bill. Last year, a measure to expand protections for dependents diagnosed with gender dysphoria failed. Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) introduced a bill to include “gender dysphoria” under the EFMP, but it died in the House.
The U.S. Air Force began utilizing the program to support changes of station for members of the Air Force and Space Force in 2022 amid increasing state crackdowns on irreversible sex change procedures. “Family members receiving gender-affirming treatment… should utilize the Exceptional Family Member Program,” Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Tanya Downsworth stated.
Despite the Air Force’s decision, the EFMP policy’s implementation varies between the Air Force, Navy, and Army. The DOD does have the regulatory authority to alter the criteria for identifying an individual’s special needs, but it recently issued revised instruction to synchronize the EFMP between services without explicitly addressing gender dysphoria.
Nevertheless, a Congressional Research Service report tied the EFMP to gender transition services. “Dependent family members diagnosed with gender dysphoria… could also be eligible to enroll in EFMP,” the report stated. Services can include information and referrals, case management, and school liaisons for dependents up to 21 years old.
TRICARE, the military’s health plan, already covers several gender transition treatments and procedures. As such, any military family with a member diagnosed with gender dysphoria would be eligible for an EFMP.
“Transgender dependents can and are enrolled in the EFMP,” stated the Modern Military Association (MMA), adding that “gender-affirming care” includes access to specialists who can provide appropriate mental and emotional support.
The number of military families availing of this program remains unknown. The Air Force has confirmed granting 15 relocations under exceptions to policy since 2021, however, it did not specify whether these waivers were allowed under EFMPs. As of 2017, when TRICARE began offering sex change interventions, at least 2,500 children of military parents applied for gender dysphoria benefits through TRICARE insurance, with approximately 900 receiving puberty blockers or sex change hormones.