Stepsiblings Now Included in Gold Star Lapel Button Program

Gold Star on blue shirt

Military families bear a tremendous burden when their loved ones die while defending their country’s liberty. Nothing can erase the pain and suffering these families feel, but one way the nation shows its appreciation of a service member’s sacrifice is by honoring eligible survivors with a Gold Star Lapel Button.

On Sept. 25, 2020, the Gold Star Lapel Button Program was officially expanded to include stepsiblings.

Gold star origins and lapel button eligibility

Gold star designation dates to World War I, when families displayed small banners with a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the armed forces. If their service member died or was killed while serving in the military, the family placed a gold star over the blue star to let the community know that their loved one died in service to our nation.

On Oct. 17, 1942, during World War II, Congress formalized the service flag by passing an act that authorized the secretary of war “to approve a design for a service flag, which flag may be displayed in a window of the place of residence of persons who are members of the immediate family of a person serving in the armed forces during the current war.” Following the end of World War II, on Aug. 1, 1947, Congress passed an act establishing the Gold Star Lapel Button “as a means of identification for widows and parents of members of the armed forces of the United States who lost their lives in the armed services of the United States in World War II.”

Laws passed since World War II revised the eligibility for the Gold Star Lapel Button. A course available through MilLife Learning traces the history behind the creation of the service flag and Gold Star Lapel Button. The course states who is eligible to display the service flag and receive and wear the Gold Star Lapel Button or the Next of Kin of Deceased Lapel Button. The Next of Kin of Deceased Lapel Button may be available to survivors when the circumstances surrounding their service member’s death does not qualify them to receive the Gold Star Lapel Button honor. Current Department of Defense policy regarding the service flag and Gold Star Lapel Button is contained in DOD Instruction 1348.36, “Gold Star Lapel Button, Service Flag and Service Lapel Button”.

Video Reflects on Meaning of Gold Star Lapel Button

This article is dedicated to the history of gold star families and includes a tribute video.

The Gold Star Lapel Button consists of a gold star one-quarter inch in diameter on a purple disc three-quarters of an inch in diameter. The star is surrounded by gold laurel leaves in a wreath five-eighths of an inch in diameter. The opposite side bears the inscription, “United States of America, Act of Congress, 1 August 1966.”

Today, Gold Star Lapel Buttons are presented to the eligible next of kin prior to their service member’s funeral or interment service. Eligible survivors may also request a button by completing a DD Form 3, “Application for Gold Star Lapel Button,” and returning it to the address listed on the form. Surviving family members now eligible to receive and wear the button if their service member dies in a qualifying situation are:

  • Widows, remarried or not
  • Widowers, remarried or not
  • Each parent (mother, father, stepmother, stepfather, mother through adoption, father through adoption and foster parents)
  • Each child, stepchild and each adopted child
  • Each sibling, half sibling and stepsibling

Paragraph 3.2 of the DOD Instruction 1348.36 detailing the Gold Star Lapel Button Program lists the qualifying situations for eligibility.

Resources abound to assist gold star survivors

With the Gold Star Lapel Button now being available to stepsiblings, they can join their family members in displaying this important symbol of sacrifice. But while these families have lost their service member, they can take comfort in knowing that they have not lost the support of their military family, which continues to be there for them during their time of greatest need.

To learn more about the resources and benefits available to gold star survivors, download A Survivor’s Guide to Benefits: Taking Care of Our Families, or see an overview of what’s available at Survivor and Casualty Assistance – Benefits.

A new Survivor Family Member Inquiry Form is also available for survivors to submit their questions and/or concerns.

More comprehensive information about various benefits for gold star survivors can be found in the Survivor and Casualty Assistance section of Military OneSource.

Death Gratuity Benefit Explained

Mother and son looking at horizon

Military families face no greater challenge than dealing with the grief of having a loved one die while serving their country.

The support and love within families and from friends can help survivors manage their grief in the days, weeks and months following a tragedy. But beyond the emotional challenges, such a loss can present short- and long-term financial security issues. Especially when the death of a loved one is under investigation to determine if it was in the line of duty. Typically, the determination can take six months to a year or so.

Through the Casualty Assistance program, the Department of Defense supports families of missing, ill, injured and deceased service members and DOD civilians. This program includes the death gratuity benefit, which is intended to provide immediate support for surviving military family members to help them deal with the financial hardships that accompany the loss of a service member.

Death gratuity defined

The death gratuity is a lump-sum, tax-exempt payment of $100,000 provided by the DOD to assist the survivors or other people identified by a service member prior to their death. It is normally paid to eligible beneficiaries within 72 hours of receipt of DD Form 397, “Claim Certification and Voucher for Death Gratuity Payment.”

This military death benefit is dependent on the service member dying while on active duty, active duty for training, inactive duty for training or within 120 days of release from active duty if the death is service-connected.

Death gratuity in this usage does not mean a tip. It is compensation for military service, and is provided to families in other industries as well, as authorized by numerous federal statutes. This includes families of coal miners and firefighters, for example, who receive a “death gratuity” to help them deal with financial crises following their loved one’s death.

Death gratuity eligibility

A service member may designate any person or persons to receive up to 100% of the death gratuity (in 10% increments), with any remaining amount payable according to a prescribed hierarchy.

Learn About the Death Gratuity

This eTutorial will detail what the death gratuity means to you and your loved ones.

Although you may be able to complete the DD Form 93, “Record of Emergency Data” electronically, it’s better to visit your personnel center in person because you will need a witness when you fill out the form or make changes to a previous form. This will also allow you to ask questions and make sure you are getting the best and most up-to-date information.

It is important for service members to keep their DD Form 93, “Record of Emergency Data” updated to ensure that the death gratuity and other important benefits reach their intended beneficiaries in a timely fashion. The Record of Emergency Data should be updated as follows:

  • During initial entry into the service or upon employment review
  • Upon reporting to a new duty station
  • When ordered into periods of temporary duty in excess of 30 days
  • Prior to all deployments, regardless of length
  • Prior to departure on permanent change of station orders
  • Following a life-changing event such as marriage, divorce or the birth or adoption of a child

Free Financial Counseling

Financial counseling is available to eligible survivors through their service or Military OneSource.

Item 11a on the form, under “Instructions For Preparing DD Form 93,” includes the hierarchy of this military survivor benefit should a service member not designate a beneficiary or beneficiaries or if the full amount is not designated.

The purpose of the death gratuity is to provide an immediate one-time, nontaxable payment to surviving family members to keep them free from the financial hardships that accompany the loss of a service member until their death benefits kick in.

Death gratuity history

The death gratuity program, first established in 1908, has a long history and has evolved to support surviving family members more effectively.

Prior to the creation of the program, survivors of military members were essentially left financially vulnerable in the event of the death of their military service member.

The initial intent of the program was to provide financial coverage for survivors due to the absence of adequate life insurance security. But the government began providing this insurance in 1917 as the United States became heavily involved in World War I, leading to a repeal of the original death gratuity laws. A few years later, however, the program was reinstated.

Changes since then include the Act of June 20, 1949, which extended eligibility to reservists and National Guard members, so long as they were on an active duty or training status at the time of death.

In the 1980s, there was pushback in Congress over efforts to increase the monetary amount provided by the death gratuity because some members believed that expanded Social Security benefits, dependency and indemnity compensation and Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance made the increase unnecessary.

But recent changes ─ primarily due to the United States’ involvement in war ─ have resulted in more financial assistance. One of the most significant was signed into law in May 2005 as Public Law 109-13. Most notably, this change increased the gratuity amount from $12,000 to $100,000 for eligible beneficiaries.

Prior to May 25, 2007, the death gratuity was payable according to a specific hierarchy prescribed in law with no opportunity for the member to designate a beneficiary. But service members may now determine their own beneficiaries.

Additional information

For additional information on death gratuity, review the following resources: 

  • Take the Completing the DD93 MilLife Learning course to learn about the death gratuity benefit and what it means to you and your loved ones. You’ll learn about the benefit, which provides immediate funds to designated survivors when a military service member dies on active duty.
  • View this Military OneSource Death Gratuity video for more information, assistance on the DD Form 93, “Record of Emergency Data” and the importance of filling it out and keeping it updated. (Streaming YouTube is currently blocked from DOD networks.)
  • Consult A Survivor’s Guide to Benefits for assistance as you work through the difficulty and pain of losing a loved one who was serving in the military.
  • Access these additional resources for survivor and casualty assistance.

If you are a survivor seeking assistance, contact your casualty assistance officer or get connected with a long-term care manager to learn more about the long-term case management program.

Certification Process Eases for Student Recipients of Survivor Benefit Plan

Mother helping daughter with homework

Current as of May 15, 2020


The certification process has gotten easier for students age 18 and older covered as a child annuitant under the military Survivor Benefit Plan.

The changes went into effect in May 2020, highlighted by the following:

  • A simpler certification form
  • A student’s ability to self-certify
  • An extension of the certification deadline to annually instead of each term/semester

SBP annuity payments for qualifying high school and college students are not affected by school closures in the wake of coronavirus disease 2019.

A quick SBP overview

The Department of Defense sponsors and subsidizes the SBP, which provides an ongoing monthly annuity (up to 55% of the service member’s retired pay) to military spouses and/or children when a military member dies while on active duty, inactive duty or after retirement.

Coverage is automatic and at no cost for members on active duty and for Reserve Component members while performing inactive-duty training. Active-duty members can purchase coverage upon retirement. Reserve Component members can elect full-time coverage, whether on duty or not, when they reach 20 years of qualifying service for reserve retired pay.

The department’s fiscal year 2020 budget made changes to the amount of the survivor benefit. The change, which takes place over three years, specifically affects those spouses and children of service members who died on active duty when the surviving spouse previously elected to transfer the SBP annuity to a child or children.

Student eligibility for the military SBP

The SBP’s child annuity payments typically end when recipients turn 18. You are eligible to continue receiving payments until the end of the school year during which you turn 22, as long as you remain unmarried and you attend one of the following full time:

  • High school
  • Accredited trade school
  • Accredited technical school
  • Accredited vocational institute
  • Accredited college or university

Easing the certification process

The DOD simplified the process of students becoming certified in other ways, including:

  • Students will now self-certify. So they will no longer need a school official’s signature or school documentation when they certify full-time attendance. With COVID-19 school closures, this truly simplifies the process.
  • Simpler Child Annuitant’s Certification for Previous Attendance Letter for certifying past attendance.

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service details the new certification process on their website, including all the changes. Make sure to complete the updated Child Annuitant’s School Certification form.

The DOD is taking steps to make it easier to validate each student’s eligibility with an online option for uploading and submitting school certification forms. Use the AskDFAS online upload tool.

How to submit certification forms

Here are three no-cost ways you can submit your school certification form each term/semester. (Be sure to keep a copy for your records each time.)

  • Online: You now have a convenient online option. DFAS created a submission module, https://go.usa.gov/xymaH, where you can upload a school certification form through AskDFAS on the DFAS.mil website. This is accessible on mobile browsers. Simply fill in the required information in the online screen, and upload a PDF of your completed and signed DD Form 2788.
  • By mail:
    Defense Finance and Accounting Service
    U.S. Military Annuitant Pay
    8899 E. 56th Street
    Indianapolis, IN 46249-1300
  • By fax: 800-982-8459

If you would like to receive email reminders when it is time to submit your school certifications, follow the simple directions to create a profile in myPay.

Questions?

Look for additional information about military benefits on the DFAS website. You can also speak with a customer service representative at 216-522-5955 or 800-321-1080, or write to the address above.

Military OneSource and the Office of Financial Readiness have more resources and tips to help you and your family members prepare for your financial future. Follow FINRED on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and look for more on YouTube (Streaming YouTube is currently blocked from DOD networks. To visit the video directly, go to https://www.youtube.com/DoDFINRED.) and the FINRED website and blog.

Eligibility for Confidential, Non-medical Support Services

Soldiers run together

Military OneSource helps service members and their families be the best guardians of their country, team and family by helping them find information, manage challenges and connect with the military community. A virtual extension of installation services, Military OneSource provides a wide range of confidential support services, including:

Eligibility may vary and is explained in the following information.

Contact Military OneSource 24/7.

You can get personalized help 365 days a year by telephone and online.

Overseas? See OCONUS calling options.

Prefer to live chat? Start now.

Eligibility for all Military OneSource support services

The following groups are eligible for all Military OneSource services listed above:

  • Active duty: All active-duty service members of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Space Force
  • Active-duty immediate family members (includes spouses, children and anyone who has legal responsibility for the service member’s children during separation for the child’s benefit).
  • National Guard and reserve service members (regardless of their activation status) and their immediate families (includes spouses, children and anyone who has legal responsibility for the service member’s children during separation for the child’s benefit).
  • Coast Guard members who are activated as part of the Department of the Navy under Title 10 authority, as well as their family members.
  • Designated Department of Defense expeditionary civilians and their families (includes spouses, children and anyone who has legal responsibility for the service member’s children during separation for the child’s benefit).
  • Survivors (surviving spouses who have not remarried and children) of active duty, National Guard and reserve service members (regardless of activation status or cause of service member’s death).
  • Medically discharged service members (and their immediate family members) if they are being serviced under one of the services’ wounded warrior or seriously ill and injured programs.
  • Retired service members until 365 days past end of tour of service, retirement date or discharge date, including service members on the Temporary Disability Retirement List. Coast Guard veterans and their immediate family are eligible from their separation date until 365 days past end of tour of service.
  • Discharged service members (if discharged honorably) (and their immediate family members) until 365 days past end of tour of service, retirement date or discharge date. Coast Guard veterans (if discharged honorably) and their immediate family are eligible from their separation date until 365 days past end of tour of service.
  • Military academy cadets.

Eligibility for limited Military OneSource support services

The following groups are eligible for Military OneSource online services and webinars, and call center consultation and services, but cannot access all Military OneSource services:

  • Parents and extended family members of active-duty, National Guard and reserve service members when needing assistance with issues that are directly related to the service member or on behalf of the service member.
  • Reserve Officers’ Training Corps students.
  • Delayed-entry recruits and future recruits (and their parents and immediate family members) regarding support directly related to or on behalf of the future recruit.
  • Non-military/non-spouse (for example, partner or former spouse) who is the parent of an eligible child is eligible if the service member is being serviced under an injured soldier program as well as his or her immediate family, including anyone who has legal responsibility for a service member’s children during separation. Eligibility extends to language translation services for documents and for telephone translation.

Speak with a Military OneSource consultant directly at 800-342-9647 for more information regarding eligibility requirements. OCONUS/International? View calling options.

Information, Tickets and Travel: Your Key to Fun

Army Navy football game

Whether you want to take in a socially distanced ball game, spend a day at local attractions or plan a vacation, your local Information, Tickets and Travel office is your key to great deals on recreation and travel. Keep in mind, with coronavirus disease 2019 safety guidelines in place around the world, your best bet is to check with your local ITT office for:

  • Updated safety measures you must follow
  • Cancellations that could affect your event
  • Important news before you purchase tickets or book a vacation

What you can get through ITT

Your military ID provides access to the following discounts and savings through ITT:

  • Tickets for local attractions like sporting events, concerts, zoos, museums, historical sites and movies
  • Destination tickets, including theme parks and national parks
  • Day trips and tours to nearby cities
  • Vacation packages, including cruises and resorts
  • Leisure travel services

Why you should use ITT

  • Military discounts
  • Exclusive offers for service members
  • No service fees
  • Trip-planning assistance

Many Information, Tickets and Travel personnel are certified travel agents. They can save you time and money by figuring out the details for your trip. Whether you’re destined for Las Vegas or Walt Disney World® Resort, our staff can get you there at the best rate. And be sure to ask about these special programs:

2021 Blue Star Museums

The 2021 Blue Star Museums program begins on Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 15, 2021, and ends Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 6, 2021.

  • Lodging on installations, through recreational facilities and at first-class resorts and nongovernment-owned hotels
  • America the Beautiful passes offer free access to national parks — go hike, climb, ski, surf, stargaze or relax
  • Blue Star Museums allow you to soak up history, science or culture across the country — for free

Who is eligible for ITT services

  • Active-duty, National Guard and reserve service members
  • Retired service members
  • Family of service members
  • Department of Defense civilians
  • Nonappropriated Fund personnel

Turn your bucket list adventures or relaxation into next weekend’s to-do list. Contact your Information, Tickets and Travel office for deals to make it happen.

Book online now through American Forces Travel℠

American Forces Travel℠ expands ITT services through an ecommerce website, making them available 24/7. Access travel and vacation discounts online through the service provider, Priceline Group Inc. Military discounts on concerts, theater, sporting events and more are also available.

Through AFT, you can:

  • Plan your trip, whether you are traveling in the United States or overseas.
  • Stay at hotels all over the world and book cruises and vacation packages, with deep discounts.
  • Secure tickets to major events, even if they are sold out, through the AFT Secondary Ticket Marketplace, with no extra fees tacked on.

By booking your next trip or event through AFT, you’ll save money and morale, welfare and recreation will receive a commission. You’ll be funding the programs you enjoy on your installation by taking a vacation or enjoying a concert!

Note the changes due to COVID-19

Due to COVID-19 circumstances, travel product inventory has been reduced. Refer to the following for the most current information on AFT products:

Cruises

Hotels, flights, rental cars and packages

Event tickets

Military Funeral Honors Eligibility

Air Force honor guard performs military honors service.

Military funeral honors are provided to recognize the sacrifice and contributions of our nation’s veterans. The following are eligible to receive military funeral honors:

  • Military members who died while on active duty
  • Veterans who served in the active military, naval, or air service and were discharged or released from that service by means of an “honorable” or “under honorable conditions” discharge
  • Members or former members of the selected reserves and were discharged or released from service by means of an “honorable” or “under honorable conditions” discharge

Understanding Military Funeral Honors and Eligibility

Providing military funeral honors is the nation’s way of showing gratitude and paying final tribute to a veteran’s honorable military service. Review the MilLife Learning eTutorial to better understand the Military Funeral Honors program and eligibility.

Other eligible beneficiaries include:

  • Members of the Commissioned Officers Corps of the Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Certain civilian or contractual groups who have been given active-duty determinations may also be eligible for funeral honors, as they may have been named active-duty designees for the military, Navy or Air Force services

The following persons are not eligible for military funeral honors:

  • Individuals separated from the armed forces under dishonorable conditions or those who have been barred from veteran’s benefits
  • Those who have been convicted of a federal or state capital crime
  • A person found to have committed a federal or state capital crime but has not been convicted of such crime by reason of such person not available for trial due to their death or flight to avoid prosecution
  • A person convicted of a federal or state crime causing the person to be a Tier III sex offender
  • A veteran or service member or member of a Reserve Component when the circumstances surrounding the person’s death or other circumstances as specified by the secretary of the military department would bring discredit upon the person’s military service or former military service
  • Anyone who was ordered to report to an induction station but was not actually inducted into military service

To establish a veteran’s eligibility for military funeral honors, a DD Form 214: Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty or any discharge document showing honorable service is required. The DD Form 214 may be obtained by using the online order form or completing a Standard Form 180.

For all inquiries regarding military funeral honors please contact the appropriate military funeral honors coordinator listed in the Military Funeral Honors Directory.

Joining the Military as a Reservist: Eligibility, Obligation and Benefits

Two service members speak with a woman

Joining the Reserve Component of the military is a great way to serve your country. You will also earn valuable benefits without giving up your civilian employment or schooling.

New to the Military

Military OneSource has the information, tools and resources you’ll need to transition smoothly and quickly to military life.

Many people transfer to the reserves from the Active Component. But you can join the National Guard or military reserves without prior military experience. There are small differences among the Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and the Coast Guard Reserve. But most have the same requirements, obligations and federal benefits. National Guard members who perform state active duty are eligible for state benefits.

Am I eligible to join the National Guard or military reserves?

You must meet these minimum requirements to join the National Guard or military reserves:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or resident alien.
  • Be between the ages of 17 and 42 (general requirement range; age varies by branch).
  • Pass an armed forces physical exam.
  • Pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test.
  • Meet the minimum ASVAB eligibility standard. You must receive a sufficient score on the ASVAB composite called the Armed Forces Qualification Test.

Each branch or specific job may have other requirements in addition to those listed above.

How do I join the National Guard or military reserves?

The first step is to contact a recruiter. Your recruiter will explain the process and available opportunities. Speaking with recruiters from different branches can help you get an idea of which branch you would like to join. You can also find out more information at the recruiting websites for each branch:

The process could go quickly or slowly, depending on different factors. Sometimes you can get through the requirements very quickly. It can also take weeks or months from when you first contact a recruiter to when you leave for your military training.

What’s my obligation if I join the National Guard or military reserves?

Joining the military reserves or National Guard is a significant time commitment. This is true, especially at the beginning. You will get settled in your permanent unit. Then, you can expect to attend unit assembly, known as “drill,” one weekend per month. You will also participate in a two-week annual training each year.

  • Initial training: As a new military member, you will attend your branch’s basic military training. That may last from eight to 12 weeks. Depending on your job, you may also attend an advanced training course.
  • Monthly drill: You’ll need to drill for 48 periods or units per year. Most units drill one weekend per month. A typical weekend drill has four periods. Some military units have additional drilling requirements, which may include the weekday.
  • Annual training: You’ll also need to participate in annual training for two weeks per year.
  • Activations: You may be activated to full-time service in a voluntary or involuntary status. This can be with your unit or individually. These activations may vary in length and location. They may include 30 days in a unit near your hometown. Or up to a year supporting a mission outside of the United States. Generally, you cannot opt out of involuntary action. This is because the military has ordered you to active service.
  • Length of commitment: Your total contract may range from three to eight years. This depends on the branch of service and your specific occupation/job.

What kind of benefits will I earn?

For your commitment to the National Guard or military reserves, you’ll receive many benefits including:

  • Part-time pay: Reserve Component pay is based on rank and service time. Bonuses are sometimes available for high-demand and low-density skills. Your pay will be based upon the Active Duty Pay Table during full-time and annual training, and active duty. You will receive prorated payment while on partial month duty. This will be calculated using the daily rate. Learn more about Basic Pay, the fundamental component of military pay.
  • Skills training: You’ll be trained for your Reserve Component job. The selection of jobs available will depend on the needs of the military and your ASVAB scores.
  • Health care coverage: TRICARE Reserve Select is subsidized, fee-based health care coverage. It is for reservists and their families when the military member is not on active-duty orders. Reservists on active duty for more than 30 days receive comprehensive medical and dental care at no cost. While their service member is activated for more than 30 days, family members receive health care coverage.
  • Education: Selected Reserve or National Guard members who have signed up for at least six years, can access up to three years of educational assistance. This benefit is available through the Montgomery GI Bill® for Selected Reserve. Additional funding may be available for certain high-demand fields. Reservists may also earn Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, which may be transferred to eligible dependents when certain eligibility criteria are met.
  • Commissary and exchange privileges: Reserve Component members and their eligible dependents have full-time access to on-base shopping. This includes the discounted food and department stores.
  • Retirement: Service in the Reserve Component earns points toward a reserve retirement.

Joining the National Guard or military reserves can be a great way to serve your country without leaving your full-time job. Once you decide to join, you can learn more about your new community. See Military OneSource’s New to the Military resources. Military OneSource can answer your questions about military life. Call 800-342-9647 or connect via Live Chat 24/7/365. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options.