Congress recently overturned President Donald Trump’s veto on the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), thus voting to enact the $741 billion defense policy bill.

“Not only does this bill give our service members and their families the resources they need, but it also makes our nation more secure—pushing back against China and Russia, strengthening our cyber defenses, and accelerating innovation into the technologies that will keep our children’s children safe,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman in a press release.

In addition to international security priorities, the bill offers provisions to ameliorate the Department of Defense’s initiative to assist military families with special needs, the Exceptional Family Member Programs (EFMP).

This year’s NDAA will have three major reforms for EFMP and military families with special needs members:

EFMP Program Reforms: Section 582 of the NDAA dictates: 1) Standardization of EFMP across the military branches, 2) Ensuring healthcare, special needs education programs and installation-based programs are available to EFMP families, and 3) establishing an EFMP case manager and case management model at each installation.

Special Education Reform: Also in Sec. 582 each installation must have an attorney trained in special education law. Furthermore each Secretary must collect and maintain dispute information regarding special education (Sec 589G), and the GAO and DoD conduct a study on military students with disabilities (589A and 589G).

Echo Program Reforms: The NDAA has multiple provisions reforming the the TRICARE Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) which provides supplemental services to active duty family members (ADFMs) with qualifying mental or physical disabilities. This includes increasing the respite benefit from 16 to 32 hours, families will not have to use another ECHO benefit to access a respite benefit, and a GAO study on ECHO utilization.

Photo By Jason Bortz