Free Entrance to National Parks for Vets and Gold Star Families
On Veterans Day 2022, the National Park Service will unveil a lifetime pass providing free entrance to national parks for Veterans and their families. The Interagency Military Lifetime Pass waives entrance fees for the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and standard amenity recreation fees for the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sites for current military service members and their dependents, Veterans and Gold Star Families.
Veterans and their families have free access to approximately 2,000 public locations spread out across more than 400 million acres of public lands, which host activities to fit any lifestyle—from serene to high octane, including hiking, fishing, paddling, biking, hunting, stargazing, camping, and much more.
The Military Pass has been expanded to include a pass that does not expire for Veterans and Gold Star Family members. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2022 authorized a free lifetime pass to national parks and other federal recreational lands for eligible Veterans and Gold Star Families. In recent years, they were able to receive annual passes.
Are you eligible?
For purposes of this program, a Veteran is identified as an individual who has served in the United States Armed Forces, including the National Guard and Reserve, and is able to present one of the following forms of valid (unexpired) identification:
Department of Defense Identification Card
Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)
Veteran ID Card
Veterans designation on a state-issued U.S. driver’s license or identification card
Gold Star Families are next of kin of a member of the United States Armed Forces who lost his or her life in a “qualifying situation,” such as a war, an international terrorist attack, or a military operation outside of the United States while serving with the United States Armed Forces.
How to get your Interagency Pass
Interagency Passes can be obtained in person while visiting a participating site. Visit Places to Get Interagency Passes for a searchable list and be sure to contact the site before you go, to make sure they are open and have passes in stock. In addition, Military passes, as well as those for seniors and persons with permanent disabilities, are available online through the USGS Online Store with an additional processing fee. Existing passes remain valid. You do not need to obtain a new pass if you already have a Lifetime Senior or Access Pass.
For more information about eligibility and passes, visit Free Entrance to National Parks for Veterans and Gold Star Families (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov).
The participating agencies also offer several fee-free days for everyone throughout the year to mark days of celebration and commemoration. Examples of fee-free days include the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., National Public Lands Day, Veterans Day and the signing of the Great American Outdoors Act.
Fee-free days and fee policies vary among the agencies, so it’s best to check the agency website or contact the site you plan to visit in advance of your trip.
Disabled Veterans May Get Refund
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Inspector General recently issued a report claiming that more than 53,000 disabled veterans may be owed refunds totaling approximately $189 million in home loan fees they were incorrectly charged by the VA. Auditors found it "troubling" that senior Veterans Benefits Administration officials were aware in October, 2014 that thousands of exempt veterans were owed refunds, but didn't take adequate action to issue refunds. The auditors estimated that nearly 73,000 exempt veterans were incorrectly charged an estimated $286 million in funding fees for their VA home loans from 2012 through 2017. During that period, the VA issued about $97 million in refunds to 19,700 of the veterans -- leaving an estimated 53,200 who may be eligible for refunds. Based on a sample of 200 home loans made from 2012-2017, auditors found overcharges that averaged $4,483.
Generally, veterans and service members are required to pay a VA funding fee when they apply for a VA home loan, to defray the VA's cost for administering the loan. However, veterans are exempt from paying a funding fee if they're entitled to receive VA disability compensation. VA funding fees range from 0.5 percent to 3.3 percent of the loan amount. The VA guarantees the loans, which are made through lenders such as banks and credit unions.
The VA Loan Guaranty Service has developed a plan to identify these exempt veterans and to issue the refunds. One issue identified by the Inspector General, and being reviewed by the VA, is how to credit borrowers who, after their loan has closed, were awarded disability compensation with retroactive effective dates, which would have made them eligible for the waiver at the time the loan was given.
In their response to the VA IG, Loan Guaranty Service officials cited other competing priorities: unprecedented growth in the VA home loan program from 2012 through 2017, with parallel increases in phone call volume, requests for VA certificates of eligibility, and appraisals. In 2014, the VA estimated it would take 12 employees devoted full time for one year to complete the refunds. More recent data indicates it would take at least 30 full-time employees more than a year to complete the process, according to the VA.
Veterans who think they may be eligible for a refund should go online or call (877) 827-3702 to request a refund.
SCDMV Veteran Designation
SCDMV offers a “VETERAN” designation on driver licenses, identification cards and beginner permits for individuals who served honorably in the United States Armed Forces. To apply, veterans must present an acceptable document based on the SC Code of Laws 56-1-140 and the standards set by the South Carolina State Office of Veterans' Affairs.
If your military discharge date was AFTER January 1, 1950, you must provide Form DD-214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty), which indicates an honorable discharge. No other proof of service will be accepted.
If your military discharge date was BEFORE 1950, you must provide a “Certificate of Discharge” or “Enlisted Separation Paper”. Veterans discharged before 1950 will not have a Military Form DD-214 because that form did not exist until January 1, 1950.
Military dependents, spouses or civilian employees on military bases are not eligible.
The cost to add the VETERAN designation to a driver license, identification card or beginner permit is $1.00. If you add the designation without changing or renewing your license, you will pay only the $1.00 fee. However, if you conduct another license transaction, you will pay $1.00 plus the required transaction fee. Each time you change or renew your credential, you must pay an additional $1.00 fee to add the designation.
Because state law requires documentation of military service, veterans applying for the designation must visit a DMV office. To get the best service in the shortest amount of time, DMV recommends that customers visit offices on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Customers should also remember that the days before and after a holiday are extremely busy at DMV.