There is no perfect family; they all have trials and hardships. In many cases the Air Force is prepared to assist.
The Defense Department created the Exceptional Family Member Program to help families with special needs.
According to Military Homefront, there are more than 100,000 military families who have members with special needs.
â€œThose include spouses, children or dependant parents who require special medical or educational services,â€ according to the Military Homefront. â€œThese family members have a diagnosed physical, intellectual or emotional condition. The EFMP works with these families to address their unique needs.â€
One such family here at Luke is that of Tech. Sgt. Zenobia Muhammad, 56th Maintenance Operations Squadron, and her daughter, Jonna Dukes, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as a child.
â€œThereâ€™s nothing like a motherâ€™s intuition,â€ Muhammad said. â€œJonna was two months old, and I remember thinking somethingâ€™s just not right. So, I took my daughter to the doctor, and he said everything was fine and that she was meeting most of her milestones. I still had that feeling, so I went to get a second opinion and learned she has MD.â€
Muhammad needed a service dog for her daughter and approached the EFMP representative on base for help locating a program that could help her. The waiting list for a service dog is two to five years and they are very expensive.
â€œJudy Pierson, Lukeâ€™s EFMP coordinator, provided us with information and an opportunity of a lifetime, Muhammad said.
The family was recently awarded a service dog named Bailey with the assistance of Pierson.
â€œWe are currently going through training with Bailey,â€ Muhammad said. â€œWe are learning CPR for the dog right now. Preserving the service dogâ€™s life is a priority. Because of the cost involved with training a dog, $10,000 to $20,000, and how young Jonna is, we all had to learn CPR. â€
CPR was not the only thing the family had to learn with a service dog. They had to learn the rules and guidelines for owning a service dog.
â€œBecause Bailey is a service dog, we have to understand the rules on where Bailey can and canâ€™t go, how close he must be to Jonna, those kinds of things,â€ Muhammad said. â€œThere are also rules about how clean he is to be kept. There are fines or a certification can be revoked, meaning your dog is no longer allowed to go into nonpet friendly environments like a restaurant or store. Those are some of the penalties for not following service dog guidelines.â€
As a service dog, Bailey is trained to obey commands, some of which are unique to service dogs. Bailey can open doors, turn on lights or pick up objects from the floor.
â€œWe havenâ€™t learned the right command yet, but Bailey will lie down and help Jonna up if she falls,â€ Muhammad said.
A big part of a having a service dog is recognizing when the dog is working and when the dog is a part of the family.
â€œWe have distinct guidelines to determine when Bailey is working and when heâ€™s at home just being part of the family,â€ Muhammad said. â€œSometimes after spending thousands of dollars and nearly two years training the dog, they end up being just a pet and are unable to provide their handler the independence they were trained to give.â€
Muhammad acquired Bailey when she received a call from Pierson at the A&FRC saying, â€œfill out this packet and have it done in the morning.â€ The Foundation for Service Dog Support, an organization who trains service dogs primarily for military members and other members serving the community, was requesting applicants in a rare situation where an unplaced service dog two weeks from graduation became available. This opportunity saved the family thousands of dollars and eliminated the wait period.
The EFMP was created and designed to help military member in times such as those experienced by Muhammad and her family. The Air Force works to help families in the program as much as they can.
â€œThe Air Forceâ€™s needs still come first, but they are concerned about our families,â€ Muhammad said. â€œThe program is designed not to send us somewhere we canâ€™t receive the services we need for our family members.â€