What to Do When Your Family Member Is Diagnosed with a Serious Medical Condition

When your family member is diagnosed with a serious medical condition, your world may feel like it's been turned upside down. You may be overwhelmed by the news - and by the effort to understand the best treatments for your family member. The following information can help you organize your thoughts so you can focus on what's best for your family member.

What to do when your family member is first diagnosed

  • Give yourself time to absorb the news. Put off making any important decisions until you've had time to absorb what the doctors have told you. By giving yourself a little time, you'll be able to make thoughtful and informed decisions on your family member's care.
  • Understand that your spouse may not handle the news in the same way you do. Everyone copes differently. You may want to talk about it, but your spouse may not. This is a difficult time for both of you, so try to let your spouse deal with the emotions in his or her own way. If you need help, visit Military OneSource or call 1-800-342-9647. Expert consultants can arrange non-medical counseling in your area at no cost to you.
  • Gather information. Try to channel your emotional energy into research. Contact a local or national support group for family members with the same medical condition. Learning more about your family member's condition will help you understand the complex medical terminology and make good decisions about their care.
  • If you live overseas or in a remote location, you could be asked to move to a new duty station where your family member can receive medical care. Managing a move at this time may seem overwhelming, but it will ensure your family member has the most appropriate medical care.
  • Find your support system. You'll need your family and friends in the coming months. They may offer to help with care or provide a shoulder to cry on. A special friend or family member may be able to help you sift through all the medical information and help you advocate for your family member.
  • Get in touch with the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) office on your installation. Enrollment in the program is mandatory for family members with certain medical conditions. Also, the program coordinator can help you find out more about military programs and help you access services both on and off the installation.
    Find out about Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. Contact the Social Security Administration to find out more about SSI, which is available for families with family members meeting certain income and disability conditions. If you qualify for SSI, your family member will receive a monthly stipend for supplies, transportation, and respite care.
  • Take time out as a couple. Maintaining a marriage while dealing with your family member's medical condition can be difficult. Even though you may feel overwhelmed right now, it's important to find time to spend alone with your spouse.

Medical care

The military health care system - TRICARE - offers comprehensive health care for military families. If you have a family member with a serious medical condition, you need to find ways to access all the services available for your family member, both within the military and in the local community. For more information, visit TRICARE online.


Medicaid may provide supplemental coverage for families meeting certain income requirements. To apply for Medicaid, visit the State Health Department office in your community. Go online to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid for a directory.


If your family member is diagnosed while you live in an overseas or remote location, you may need to relocate in order to be near medical care. Good planning before your move will help make sure you stay on track during this transition.

  • Request priority housing. If your family meets the requirements, priority housing may allow you to move into installation housing more quickly. Each installation has different housing availability and requirements, so contact your EFMP coordinator for details.
  • Make a list of medications and supplies. Make sure you have enough medications and medical supplies to cover traveling and getting settled in your new home. TRICARE beneficiaries can order extra medical supplies and medications prior to a move.
  • Get your paperwork together. Make sure you have an extra copy of your orders and other important paperwork before your move. If your child is receiving special education services bring a copy of his/her Individual Education Plan (IEP) or Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP). Ask your doctor to write a summary of your family member's medical condition to carry with you. Even though medical records are kept electronically, you'll have this description in case you run into a problem while traveling.
  • During the move. If you've planned carefully, your move should go smoothly. Keep medicines and medical supplies in your car or at a friend's house - away from the movers. When traveling, hand-carry medical supplies and important paperwork.
  • At your new duty station. Once you've arrived, you'll be busy getting your new home set up. You'll also want to make sure your family member's medical care can continue smoothly.
    • Notify the TRICARE Service Center at your new location if you've changed regions.
    • Set up an appointment with your family member's new primary care manager.
    • Connect with the EFMP coordinator at your new installation.
    • Set up an appointment with the Social Security Administration in your new area to find out if you qualify for SSI and Medicaid.
    • If the family member is in school, contact the new school district about your child's needs and a copy of his IEP.


When one parent is deployed or living in another area, the other parent will have to cope with their family member's medical issues alone. If your spouse is deployed, you'll need to rely on family and friends in a significant way.

  • Requesting a compassionate reassignment. Service members may consider requesting a compassionate reassignment due to a family member's medical condition. Each Service has different procedures for compassionate reassignment. Your installation's EFMP coordinator can help you begin the process.
  • Moving home when your spouse is deployed. If you're more comfortable living closer to your family while your spouse is deployed, make arrangements to store your household goods and move home. Make sure you contact TRICARE and your EFMP coordinator to be sure you have access to the medical services you need.
  • Arranging respite care. Even if you don't use out-of-the -home care on a regular basis for your family member, plan to have someone relieve you from time to time so you can take a break. Respite care may be available to those families who have ECHO. Your installation's EFMP coordinator may have information on local sources for respite care.
  • Contacting your spouse in case of emergency. The American Red Cross can help you get messages to a service member in the event of an emergency. You will need the service member's full name, rank, Service branch, Social Security number, military address, and any other information about the deployed unit. For a listing of local phone numbers, visit the American Red Cross online or call 1-877-272-7337.


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