Meet the Spouse who advocates for Exceptional Families

Military spouse appreciation day is Friday, May 6th 2022. MilSpouseFest is highlighting a group of military spouses that run an organization to ensure every military child is getting excellent health care. MilSpouseFest spoke with the CEO of Exceptional Families of the Military about their journey.   

Melanie the Miracle 

Nine-year-old military kid Melanie Carrigg is a miracle. “She’s doing amazing,” said her mom, Army spouse Austin Carrigg. Born with Down syndrome, deafness, and a congenital heart defect, the Carrigg family adopted Melaine at birth and is committed to providing her unconditional love and the best medical care possible. Melaine survived open-heart surgery at just a few weeks old, fought extreme developmental delays, and at three years old, suffered a catastrophic stroke.

“It left her paralyzed, and in those moments, it was hard to think about anything else. We are very lucky,” Carrigg said. UCLA medical center couldn’t care for Melaine – something Carrigg already knew. The Carrigg family requested not to follow military orders to Los Angeles based on the non-availability of medical care for their daughter. The Army denied the request. 

Doctors in California sent Melaine to Boston Children’s Hospital for care. “Doctors said she would never walk again and would not make a full recovery. But, she’s running and jumping, and 95 percent of body systems are back,” said Carrigg. The family faced yet another challenge, stranded in Boston; they had to wait months for the Army to decide where to send them.  

Building Community 

The long days and nights next to her daughter’s hospital bed are something Carrigg will never forget. “There are so many things to worry about, and then you want to take your mind off of reality knowing in the next moments they could be gone,” she said. “Brainstorming about building the Exceptional Families of the Military organization was a way to ease the pain.”  

In 2020, she was granted an opportunity to speak at the House Armed Services Committee. The topic: “Exceptional Family Member Program – Are the Military Services Really Taking Care of Family Members?” She did her best to describe how the Exceptional Family Member Program, designed for military children with medical issues, was failing her family. Her testimony caught the attention of military families and lawmakers alike.” The number of people that reached out to me in the following week was so significant – I couldn’t keep up with messaging,” Carrigg said. Instead of answering all of the messages, she launched Exceptional Families of the Military organization and began acting as the CEO.

 “It made me realize that I wasn’t alone. The policies affected so many of us, and we didn’t have a community to talk about it in,” Carrigg said. 

Exceptional Families of the Military 

Exceptional Families of the Military’s mission is to connect military families with disabilities, special healthcare needs, or additional educational needs from all service branches to navigate within the Exceptional Family Member Programs and identify areas of improvement that affect the families we represent. The organization offers both group and individual support. 

“We provide one on one direct support; if a family has an issue a peer can’t help them figure out, we’ll do one-on-one support,” Carrigg said. They also assist military families with PCS orders to find appropriate medical providers.

 “Often, there is a waitlist, and we do research about providers. We can also assist with writing a letter to request compassionate reassignment based on lack of medical care,” said Carrigg. 

Their other current projects include how to improve care for military children with autism. Exceptional Families of the Military is an all-volunteer force made up of military spouses, active duty service members, and guardsmen. Like Carrigg, most of her volunteers have children in the EFMP program.

The Mission

The EFM volunteers truly believe in their mission. As an Army spouse of 20 years, Carrigg would know; as she puts it, “the service member can’t be ready for duty if they are worried about their children at home. They deserve the best care for their sacrifice and commitment.” 

She says the future force is dependent on the health of our children. She noted that 40 percent of military children serve at one point in their lives. As for the future of her mighty non-profit, she is hoping for funding to pay her volunteer staff. 

“The things we work on today affect military families that come after us,” Carrigg said, and she is hopeful that EFM won’t be necessary one day. 

We honor all military spouses who stand up for change and create opportunities for employees and volunteers on Military Spouse Appreciation Day. Join us for our MSF Cast on Mental Health Awareness Month May 19th, and for two great MSF Casts in June; one on spouse employment and the other on entrepreneurship. 

For more information about the Exceptional Families of the Military organization, visit their website or social media pages list here: