Austin Carrigg, the 2022 Armed Forces Insurance Fort McNair Spouse of the Year and founder of Exceptional Families of the Military (EFM), is a powerful advocate for military families. Motivated by her own experiences navigating the healthcare system and seeing the need to create a better future for military families, Austin founded EFM as a nonprofit organization. Despite facing personal hardships, including her daughter’s traumatic medical emergency at a military installation that didn’t have adequate resources to handle her care, Austin has remained resolute in her mission. She envisions a world where military families don’t have to endure the same struggles, and where policymakers actively listen to and address their concerns.
EFM was born out of Austin’s personal journey as an Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) military family. With a medically complicated daughter and two other children enrolled in EFMP, Austin found there to be a serious lack of support tailored to complex families like hers. Isolated and overwhelmed, she took the initiative to establish a support group, and became a vocal advocate for change. Her testimony in front of the Health Arms Service Committee shed light on the challenges faced by EFMP families, leading to a surge of support. In fact, when she showed up to provide her testimony, her support group showed up in such force that a waiting room had to be opened up to provide space. The following day, her inbox was flooded with requests for help. Knowing she couldn’t help every person individually, she decided to launch a nonprofit to provide easy-access resources and educate families at their own pace. Launching a business is not for the faint of heart, but Austin’s dedication to EFMP military families catapulted EFM to success.
EFM welcomes families of all military branches, including the Coast Guard, Reserve, and National Guard. It also extends support to families moving overseas, recognizing the unique challenges they face. While enrollment in EFMP is encouraged, EFM is committed to assisting any military family with a disability, even if they are not officially enrolled in the program. Every EFM volunteer has personal connections to the military as well as firsthand experience with disabilities, ensuring understanding and compassion for the families they serve.
After pitching for the Military Entrepreneur Challenge at the Military Spouse of the Year® Week in Washington, D.C., Austin won a $1,000 grant for EFM. With the grant, EFM plans to invest in a more efficient volunteer platform to enhance their record-keeping processes. The organization aims to make volunteering more accessible and streamlined, allowing new volunteers to join easily and veteran volunteers to track their hours quickly.
For Austin, her definition of success is different from other business owners: “I feel like we’ll be successful when we’re not needed anymore. I’d always be happy to have peer-to-peer support groups, but success would be that we aren’t having to engage policymakers and leaders because they’ve decided they’re going to listen to families, and they’re doing a really great job of reaching out to them themselves.”