FAQs about Gifts for Recovering Soldiers and their Spouses
There are organizations and people who like to give troops goods and services as a reward for serving their country. If you’ve been in the military any length of time, you know that service members usually aren’t supposed to accept gifts from outside sources. However, because of the myriad of situations in which gift issues can arise, application of the rules can be complex. The rules that apply are based on the Joint Ethics Regulation (JER) and Code of Federal Regulations.
To make a donation of gifts or events, please contact the SRB Event Coordinator at 301-400-0297.
Q: Why are there so many rules about gifts? How are we supposed to keep it all straight? And do these rules really matter?
A: Gift issues are ethics issues. The Federal, Department of Defense, and Army rules covering gifts are designed to ensure that those we serve have confidence in our loyalty and honesty, and that we avoid even the appearance of impropriety, e.g., it does not look like we accept bribes or favors, or that we accept additions to our pay from outside sources just for doing our jobs.
We take ethics rules seriously because they are the law; because we want the public to trust us; and because ethics violations may hurt your military career, ability to maintain a Federal security clearance, and perhaps even your future as a non-Federal civilian (e.g., campaigning for public office, background investigations for sensitive jobs, etc.).
If in doubt, ask whether you should or shouldn’t accept a gift. You are always welcome to submit your questions about gifts through the Soldier Recovery Brigade S-3 to our ethics counselors at the U.S. Army Regional Health Command Atlantic of the Command Judge Advocate, or to have your chain of command do so for you.
Q: What’s a Gift?
A: A gift is defined as almost anything of monetary value, which would include goods (e.g., iPad, violin, gift card), events (e.g., football game tickets, concert tickets, tennis lessons), services (e.g., taxi ride, cleaning), or discounts (e.g., airline tickets or upgrades).
Q: Are there any exceptions to accepting gifts?
A: Yes, there are exceptions which include:
- Modest items of food and refreshments (such as coffee and donuts)
- Greeting cards and items with little value
- Commercial discounts available to the public or to all government personnel
- Prizes in contests open to the public
- Items with a market value of $20 or less
- Items which are clearly given based on a personal relationship
Q: Can civilian spouses accept gifts if their Soldier-spouses cannot do so for ethical reasons?
A: If a gift is offered based on the spouse’s relationship to the Soldier, the answer is no. For example, a Government contractor offers $1,000.00 to an Army civilian spouse to cover family bills. This type of offer is based on the Soldier’s status as a Soldier and Federal/Army ethics rules apply – not all spouses will be able to accept. The rules do not apply if the gift is made for reasons unrelated to the Soldier’s status, e.g., the spouse gets a $500.00 gift card as the Employee of the Month from his or her civilian employer.
This same rule also applies to the Soldier’s parents, siblings, children, and other dependents (e.g., stepchildren living with the Soldier).
Q: Are there different categories of Soldiers for gift purposes?
A: Yes. A special Federal gift law covers Service Members and Civilians who are wounded, injured or ill due to post-9/11 contingency operations. Another example is the Secretary of Defense has determined that non-cash gifts from certain charities and veterans’ organizations made to Service Members in the rank of E-6 and below would be acceptable. Other laws and regulations cover other situations.
Keep in mind that your ethics counselor will look at all circumstances surrounding a gift, not just whether someone is combat wounded or E-6 and below. We also look to see if the gift was made because of the Soldier’s duty position or high rank and must be declined (e.g., thank-you gifts offered to military care providers or cadre from a Soldier in Transition’s Family, gift offered to Commanding Generals or those working in a contracting office) even if that Soldier is also post-9/11 combat-wounded or E-6 or below.
Q: I heard that we may not solicit gifts. What does that mean?
A: You may not ask people and businesses to give you gifts based on your military status. For example, you or your family member(s) may not ethically create a web site asking for donations based on your military status and war wounds.
You may respond to open offers. For example, you know that a store chain offers 10% military discounts; you may ask the cashier to apply the discount to your purchase. You may respond to charitable web sites that ask you to apply for benefits. But please note – you, not the charity, are still responsible for ensuring that ethics rules allow you to apply for a particular gift.
Q: If a charity or veterans organization offers me a gift, is it ok to accept it?
A: Not always. Regardless of the source of the gift and the honorable, patriotic reasons it is being offered, you are responsible for ensuring you are following ethics rules.
Q: How about gifts distributed by my unit, such as pizza parties, iPods and gift cards?
A: Gifts given to the Warrior Transition Brigade and subordinate units have first been processed by the Brigade S-3, reviewed by the Northern Regional Medical Command legal office, and accepted by the Commanding General, Northern Regional Medical Command. There is no lower-level gift acceptance authority. Once accepted, gifts can be distributed in accordance with the donor’s intent, which may limit who gets the gift(s). Staff and cadre assisting with the event must ensure they know who is authorized to attend donated events such as pizza parties, as well as who may accept any gifts for distribution, such as gift cards. Other organizations on the installation, such as the Soldier and Family Assistance Centers (Army) or the Warrior and Family Coordination Cell (Navy), are separate organizations with different gift acceptance rules and authorities. If those organizations are giving you a tangible item, you are likely okay to accept the item. If they are referring you to someone for you to seek a gift, you may want to discuss what you would be doing with your S3 or ethics counselor first to ensure you are not violating the ethics rules.