Jennifer Bittner

Branch: Army

Duty Station: Army Futures Command

Number of Deployments: 3

Number of PCS's: 5

Share your military spouse story:
I am pretty sure this is the 20th time I have attempted to write my military spouse story and I am not sure why this is so difficult for me to put into words. My husband and I were married in 2010 after meeting through mutual friends in 2007. The interesting thing about our story is we do not agree on how we met, so I can't go into a cute story and say, "We met on a perfect Spring day! It was amazing! The stars aligned!" My version (ahem, the correct version) of how we met was at a dinner party while my husband swears we met at our friend's jiu-jitsu match. He's wrong but we can't be right every single time, I suppose. We have three children, all enrolled in EFMP for medical and educational reasons, which has been incredibly challenging to navigate over the years. I have been fortunate to meet a lot of military spouses, whom I am now friends with, because of the challenges we have all faced with the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), access to healthcare, and questions about their children's IEPs. When you have children with complex needs, the community tends to build itself around one another because the experiences with specialty provider appts, procedures, hospital stays, etc can be a supportive rallying point. Currently, I am the Executive Director and Lead Researcher for the Exceptional Families of the Military (EFM). EFM is a 501c(3) nonprofit that helps families enrolled in EFMP and we advocate to improve the lives of the families we represent. I thoroughly enjoy my role with EFM and helping families who need assistance with enrolling in the Autism Care Demonstration or processing a new medical diagnosis. I feel supporting one another is where military spouses shine and this is a small piece I can give back as a thanks to those who have supported and guided me over the years. My story definitely wouldn't be a story too exciting to tell without my military spouse friends!

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I will be honest, having three kids with medical and special education needs can make taking on leadership roles in the military community challenging. However, if someone needs help, they know I am a phone call away and I will do everything I can to assist them. I have baked items for bake sales and assisted with fundraisers for FRGs. I have helped with a Christmas gift-wrapping station at the PX even though I am awful at wrapping presents. I am fairly certain I was delegated to taping bows once my abysmal skills were proven. Now that my kids are getting older and more independent, there are more opportunities out there for me to become more involved when leading within the military community. Leadership comes in many forms and our contributions, whether big or small, are valuable and meaningful.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
I'm involved in the military community in different ways. I am the Executive Director and Lead Researcher for EFM. I meet with other organizations to create ways we can collaborate so we can assist the military community, be it for healthcare access, housing issues, EFMP, childcare, etc. I also create our annual survey, analyze the results, and write a report for our volunteers to use in their advocacy and social media efforts. Before joining EFM, I helped military families navigate IEPs, IFSPs, early intervention issues, and navigating TRICARE. I remember when my boys were diagnosed with Autism and we were navigating those needs, I felt very alone and had so many questions with nowhere or no one to turn to. I never want another family to feel the way I felt, so I am always available to help others when needed. There are so many different ways to be involved with the military community and I do feel this is one area that often gets overlooked.

Describe how you support your community:
One of the most frequent questions I get asked by others is, "How do you do it?" I do it through the support I have received from my fellow military spouses and, in turn, I offer my support back to them. I advocate on behalf of EFMP families and those enrolled in the ACD, but I also do the little things like cook, bake, or purchase meals for families when they are in the hospital or their kids are. I offer to watch kids when the primary caregiver needs a break. I bring coffee when families are tired from being up all night or I lend an ear when they need to vent. I am an adjunct psychology instructor as well. I often have military-affiliated students in my classes, so I do everything I can to support them on my end as their prof. Other ways I support military spouses is through buying from their small businesses and sharing them with others. I love being a supportive person that people can come to and not be afraid to ask questions or have hard conversations with.

What do you advocate for? Why?
I advocate on behalf of EFMP families to have better access to healthcare, housing, & resources. As the Executive Director and Lead Researcher for EFM, I meet with leadership & other organizations to help them understand the hurdles we go through in our everyday lives & why it is important to keep EFMP families in their minds when making decisions. My "why" for this is in 2015, I reached out to my middle son's pediatric provider at our local MTF for referrals to have him evaluated for Autism. For months she denied him the resources & referrals he needed & I have never felt so helpless before. Fast forward to 2017 & thankfully a new provider both my children received Autism diagnoses within a week from one another. I decided then & there that no other family would go through what we went through nor would they feel alone on these journeys. I vividly remember feeling so alone because all I wanted was a friend to tell me "I get it." I want to be that person for someone else.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I meet with other organizations (military and non-military affiliated) and leadership to share what families are going through not only through what we hear at EFM but also through the data we collect. Sharing both family stories and data helps implement the change we need for EFMP families. I help spread the message through our social media platforms and my accounts. I recently shared the struggles we endured after our most recent PCS and trying to obtain specialty care for my son who is Autistic and considered severe. I help moderate EFM's livestreams on social media and I admin several of our social media support groups. We keep families up to date on advocacy initiatives and "Calls to Action". I attend conferences and speak on panels when asked so I can spread the message on how EFMP families are affected by policy changes. Even though EFMP families have hardships, I am passionate about sharing our stories with others and am willing to share when needed.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
I want to help more families who could be struggling with being enrolled in EFMP. I don't want them to feel alone or that no one cares about them and/or their families enrolled. I want to be able to educate people on the good, and the not-so-great things, about TRICARE, EFMP enrollment, and how these issues can affect our families across all branches. EFMP can be an overlooked topic and it would be great to be able to show people that our families have something to offer. Plus, the amount of support this role can give to families going through difficult medical or special education testing can be amazing. Knowing we are more than "just" caregivers could be a morale boost when the days seem exceptionally tough.


Jennifer's journey as a military spouse is a testament to her relentless passion and dedication. Her extraordinary efforts extend beyond personal sacrifices for her family that many of us as military spouses have come to know. She actively seeks to alleviate the challenges of fellow military families when they find themselves in need. A fervent advocate for the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) and a skilled researcher, Jennifer generously applies her expertise to create change for other military families. Her contributions, driven by a sincere passion for the community, make her the perfect candidate for the MSOY program. Jennifer embodies the spirit of selfless service, offering her time, skills, and knowledge without hesitation.
- by Kayla Corbitt

Jennifer has a lot of perseverance; finishing her EdD and managing to find work while changing states every two years is no easy task. I met her while working on Autism advocacy where she volunteered for Autism Speaks. She started volunteering with Exceptional Families of the Military too and now helps lead the organization! Jennifer is a local superstar as well; helping the parent side of a school effort her child's third grade class started for an all ability playground. Jennifer has advised senior military spouses on a variety of issues and never hesitates to tell the truth about any situation. She is a research expert and uses data collection to tell the real story of the military family. She is a smart professional that would represent her fellow spouses with compassion and passion.
- by Rebecca Emerson