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

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When your family member is diagnosed with a serious medical condition, you may feel like your world has been turned upside down. You may feel overwhelmed by the news and by the effort to understand the best treatments for your family member. Fortunately, information and resources are available to help guide you through the process so you can focus on what's best for your loved one.

What to do when your family member is first diagnosed

  • Give yourself time to absorb the news. Put off making any important decisions. By giving yourself a little time, you'll be able to make thoughtful and informed decisions about the next steps.
  • Understand that your family member may not handle the news the same way you do. Everyone copes differently. You may want to talk about it, but your family member may not. Try to let your family member deal with the emotions in his or her own way. If you would like help, visit Military OneSource or call 800-342-9647. Expert consultants can arrange free, non-medical counseling in your area.
  • Find your support system. It's important to have your family and friends in the coming months.
  • Get in touch with the Exceptional Family Member Program office on your installation. Enrollment in the program is mandatory for family members with certain medical conditions. The program coordinator can help you find out more about military programs and help you access services, both on and off the installation.
  • Take time out. Even though you may feel overwhelmed right now, it's important to find time to spend alone with your family member.

Military and Civilian Health Care


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If you have a family member with a serious medical condition, there are a number of services available for him or her, both within the military and the local community. These resources include:

  • TRICARE — The military health care system, TRICARE, offers comprehensive health care for military families. For more information, visit TRICARE online.
  • TRICARE's Extended Care Health Option — Financial assistance for supplies and services may be available to beneficiaries with special needs.
  • Medicaid — Supplemental coverage may be available if you meet 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.
  • Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid — The Social Security Administration may be available for family members that meet certain income and disability conditions. If your family member qualifies, he or she will receive a monthly stipend for supplies, transportation and respite care.

Before and during a move

If your family member is diagnosed while living overseas or in a remote location, you may need to relocate in order receive the best medical care. Planning before the move will help you stay on track during this transition.

  • Move to a new duty station. If you live overseas or in a remote location, your service branch may have to relocate you to ensure your family member receives proper medical care. Managing a move at this time will likely feel overwhelming, but it'll ensure your family member has the most appropriate medical care.
  • 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. Contact your Exceptional Family Member Program coordinator for details.
  • Make a list of medications and supplies. Make sure you have enough medication and medical supplies, as you travel to, and get settled into, your new home. TRICARE beneficiaries can order extra medical supplies and medication 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 receives special education services, bring a copy of his or her individual education plan, or individual family service plan. Ask your doctor to write a summary of your family member's medical condition to carry with you.
  • Keep medicines and medical supplies away from the movers. When traveling, hand-carry medical supplies and important paperwork.

At your new duty station

Once you've arrived, you'll 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 Exceptional Family Member Program coordinator at your new installation. 
  • Contact your child's new school district to discuss any special needs and provide the school system a copy of his or her individual education plan.


If your spouse is deployed, there are support options to help you with your family member's medical issues. Here are some suggestions that can help:

  • Requesting a compassionate reassignment. Service members may request a compassionate reassignment due to a family member's medical condition. Each service branch has different procedures for compassionate reassignment. Your installation's Exceptional Family Member Program coordinator can help you begin the process.
  • Arranging respite care. If you are the primary care giver, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Plan to have someone relieve you from time to time, so you can take a break. Respite care may be available if you have TRICARE’s Extended Care Health Option. Your installation's Exceptional Family Member Program coordinator may have information on local sources as well.
  • Contacting your spouse in case of emergency. The American Red Cross can help you get messages to a service member in an emergency. You'll 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 877-272-7337.

When your family member has a medical condition, there are a variety of support options to help you with the process — from diagnosis through treatment. One of the best resources for support is a local or national support group for people with the same medical condition. Ask your medical provider for information on support groups for your loved one's specific medical condition.


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