Next-Generation Military ID Card 'Stepchild' Designation Stirs Controversy

Defense Department identification cards for military dependents stepchild
New Defense Department identification cards for military dependents display relationships more prominently than past versions, including the word stepchild for children who are not biological or adopted offspring of their military sponsor. (Twitter)

Service members and spouses are calling for change to the military's new dependent ID cards this week over the way the relationship field identifies spouses' children from previous marriages.

The Defense Department began transitioning last summer from its paper-based uniformed services ID card to a plastic "next generation" card similar to the Common Access Card used by DOD personnel. The new card is meant to be more secure and harder to counterfeit.

But a photo posted on social media Wednesday drew controversy over the card's use of the term "stepchild" in a field listing the relationship between the dependent and the military sponsor. Biological offspring are listed only as "child," social media users said.

"Why are we now specifying *stepchild* on dependent IDs?" wrote Twitter user @justjsides, whose profile lists her as an Army spouse, in the original post sharing the photo of the new ID.

The tweet was shared nearly 100 times as of Thursday morning, including by several accounts with high numbers of followers and some who tagged top military leaders or official accounts.

Some were concerned the new cards might reveal a child's adoption status, apparently based on the fact that the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS, requires different documents, depending on a child's legal relationship to their sponsor.

"My daughter has never called herself a stepchild," @justjsides said in a follow-up tweet. "We've never used that term really. I think if she saw this on her ID it would hurt her."

The word "never saw the light of the day in my blended military family," said Fred Wellman, in a retweet of the photo. A retired Army officer and the executive director of political action committee The Lincoln Project, Wellman has more than 186,000 followers on Twitter. His tweet was shared nearly two dozen times.

"This sucks, and it sucks more for 'adopted child,'" wrote @LethalityJane, a soldier with some 28,000 followers, in a retweet shared more than 80 times. "No one who is inspecting my stepkid's ID needs to know why she qualifies for my benefits."

The ID card photo belonged to a user going by @kristenmary20, that user said in response to Wellman, explaining that she'd originally posted it to a spouse page before it was shared to Twitter.

But in another post that was shared less widely, @kristenmary20 said she had received a response from a Defense Department office explaining the inclusion of the term "stepchild" was an oversight when the new ID card was rolled out, and that officials were looking into the possibility of fixing it.

The previous ID cards listed the relationship as "SC," but the new one allows the whole term to be spelled out more prominently, the email said, according to a series of @kristenmary20's tweets.

"This is an error of omission vice commission," it said. "There was not a conscious decision made during the implementation of this major change to DoD's ID card program to bring emotional distress to any DoD ID card recipient."

The email added that ID cards for adopted children list the relationship as "child."

The reason for the difference appears to be a result of how the child's status is listed in DEERS. A stepchild's eligibility for DOD affiliation and benefits is based on their biological parent's marriage to the military sponsor and ends upon a divorce. But adopted children maintain their benefits through age 21, regardless of the relationship status of their parents, the email explained.

"The DoD is reviewing this issue to determine whether this issue can be resolved, i.e., continue to reflect the stepchild status in DEERS while printing CHILD on the face of the ID card, and if so, the associated timeline," the email said, according to the tweets.

The military did not immediately confirm the authenticity of the email to Stars and Stripes or provide additional comment early Thursday.

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