The Survivors Outreach Services program educates and supports Soldiers, Families and civilians who have lost a Soldier.

The program, which was established as part of the Army Family covenant, helps survivors of deceased Soldiers overcome the trials associated with losing a loved one.

SOS provides services to active, Reserve, retirees and Army National Guard Families.

Representatives from the program educate survivors on their local and federal entitlements, assist them in the making financial decisions and offer long term emotional and social support to Families.

SOS also works as an advocate for Families by connecting people with organizations and services who aim to help survivors.

The program has a network of representatives in Army installations across the nation and Families can receive help from any of them for as long as they desire assistance.

"When a servicemember dies it comes as a great shock. Many times its very sudden but we want that Family to know they're not alone," said Janet Elder, SOS financial counselor. "We are here anytime survivors need anything be it practical, emotional or any type of support."

Elder said the program should bring relief to the Family and the Soldier.

"It should be comforting to all Soldiers to know that 'When I'm gone the Army will still be there to assist my Family,'" Elder said.

The program also encourages the people of Fort Belvoir to honor and respect the Families of deceased Soldiers whenever they cross paths on the installation.

One way to identify these survivors is by a star they wear on their clothing.

The star, officially know as the Gold Star Lapel Button, was created by an act of Congress in 1947 as an appropriate means of identification of Families of deceased Soldiers.

These pins are presented to widows, widowers, parents and next of kin.

There are two different lapel pins presented to survivors. The gold star, which has purple circular background, is given to Families of Soldiers who died in combat operations.

The next of kin pin, which has a gold background, is presented to Families of Soldiers who died outside of combat operations.

Survivors can also be identified by a gold star flag that is often displayed outside their home.

"Freedom is not free it comes at a cost," Elder said. "It would be perfectly fine if you see someone … that has a gold star to very politely approach them and recognize their loss and honor their sacrifice and thank them for what their Family has endured for the sake of freedom."

Elder said that people who want to do more to honor Families of deceased Soldiers can support the many activities and organizations dedicated to make survivors lives' easier. These activities include the monthly support group for survivors hosted by Fort Belvoir and fellowship activities such as bowling and social dinners.

Elder said the Army's establishment of the SOS program was a wonderful decision and she looks forward to helping the program continue to grow.

For more information on SOS, call (703) 805-1827.