By Buddy Blouin
When a family loses a member due to war, they become known as a Gold Star family. It’s a designation no family wishes to ever receive and can be provided for any military death during combat. There are more than 1.7 million family members fitting this description. A Gold Star family member may be entitled to meaningful benefits and are always entitled to respect as they mourn their loss.

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What Is a Gold Star Family?

A Gold Star family is a family that has had a loved one(s) pass away while serving in the American Armed Forces. The idea started in 1936 when Gold Star Survivors began being honored by the U.S. Army. Today, it’s evolved and continues to be a way to honor family members suffering after their loved one(s) serving America gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Gold Star Family Memorial

The Gold Star Families Memorial Monument can be found at Hugh MacRae Park in Wilmington, North Carolina. There's also a notable tribute known as the Gold Star Families Memorial and Park east of Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. Both of these tributes are fitting ways to honor those who have passed and their families who carry on their legacy. They are places of remembrance, reflection, honor, and gratitude.

How Much Money Does a Gold Star Family Get?

Gold Star family benefits are provided through the death gratuity program. The program pays $100,000 to eligible survivors tax-free. The amount eligible beneficiaries receive remains the same for all Gold Star families, no matter the cause of death. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) lays out a clear path to determine who is able to receive such benefits and under what conditions:
  • Surviving spouse if a fallen military member was married.
  • Children who survive are next if there is no spouse.
  • Should neither exist, surviving parents are to receive the benefit.
  • If none of these parties are available, the duly appointed executor/administrator of their estate will receive the benefit.
  • Even still, if no one fits any of these designations, the next of kin to the fallen military member will be provided the benefits.
Service members can provide partial benefits in 10% increments of the death gratuity as they see fit. Payment is usually submitted within 72 hours. In addition to payment, families can receive assistance for funeral arrangements, transportation, and burial from the DoD. Additional benefits and options may be available through protections such as life insurance; however, these are more personal decisions that will not apply to every situation.

Resources for Surviving Families

Overcoming any such tragedy is a process for any family. If you are a Gold Star family and in need of resources, Military OneSource from the DoD can provide you with a range of options, including:
  • Air Force Families Forever: 1 (866) 299-0596.
  • Army's Survivor Outreach Services: 1 (833) 313-1960.
  • Coast Guard Gold Star Program: 1 (202) 795-6637.
  • Marine Corps' Long Term Assistance Program: 1 (866) 210-3421.
  • Navy Gold Star Program: 1 (888) 509-8759.
Specialized, professional resources are available to you or people you know that may be in need. Contact them today to assist in your grieving process in a healthy manner.

What To Say to a Gold Star Family

If you're looking to support Gold Star families, your heart is in the right place. But how you go about things is also a very important component. Families that display the Gold Star should always be shown the utmost respect for the passing of their loved one(s), no matter how long it has been or the conditions surrounding their passing. Asking how someone is doing or offering to help them in any way they might suggest is a great starting point. You should never, ever try to implement language that minimizes their situation, such as, “You’ll move on.” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Community members looking to help should also take a self-audit and evaluate their relationship with the mourning family. No matter what, they’re going to need support and space, but an appropriate level of assistance from a close family member does not come with the same boundaries as help from a neighbor, fellow bowling league member, or local barfly. Basically, deploy empathy, respect boundaries, and let them know that you're there for them however they might need. Being a member of a Gold Star family isn’t something anyone wishes to be a part of. Nevertheless, the designation is one of respect that deserves support from the military and American civilians for the loss of their brave loved one who worked to keep us safe.

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