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Veteran benefits expanded for federal recreation areas

Daily Inter Lake | November 5, 2021 12:00 AM

America’s veterans and their families have several ways to enjoy the nation’s federal recreational areas this Veterans Day, and every day, thanks to the National Park Service and Defense Department's Live Well Initiative.

The program honors military families and their fallen loved ones with a lifelong gift: free admission to all national parks and other participating Department of the Interior agencies as well as sites administered by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

While the Interagency Annual Military Pass was already available to active duty military members and their dependents, the new program, which went into effect on Veterans Day 2020, benefits veterans and Gold Star Families indefinitely.

A term that refers to the service flags and banners flown by families during World War I, a Gold Star Family is defined as one who lost a family member in war, an international terrorist attack, or a military operation outside of the United States. Those service flags included a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the armed forces, which was replaced by a gold star if that family member was killed.

To receive free access to these sites, Gold Star Families simply need to download and print a free access voucher (available at, which they sign and either present upon arrival or place on their dashboard at unattended sites. By signing it, they self-certify they are "eligible next of kin of a member of the United States Armed Forces who lost his or her life in a qualifying situation, such as war, an international terrorist attack or a military operation outside of the United States while serving in the United States Armed Forces."

The voucher can then be presented to park staff to exchange for an annual Interagency Military Pass. The passes are nontransferable, but they cover admission for anyone traveling in the same, non-commercial vehicle as the pass holder or up to three other adults at sites with per person admission fees.

It is important to note that the program does not cover expanded amenity fees such as camping, tours, special recreation permits or organized groups or concession-operated facilities or activities.

Veterans can provide one of several forms of identification to receive a free annual Interagency Military Pass, including a Department of Defense Identification Card (non-expired CAC Card), Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC), a veteran ID card or a veterans designation on a state-issued U.S. driver’s license or identification card.

In addition, the Interagency Access Pass is a lifetime pass that is also available for free for any U.S. citizen or permanent resident, including a veteran or Gold Star Family member, who has a permanent disability.

Current military members can obtain an annual Interagency Military Pass through the America the Beautiful – the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands (Interagency) Pass Program by visiting the USGS online store at, with a $10 processing fee.

Reporter Jeremy Weber may be reached at 406-758-4446 or

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