ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- The Defense Department has announced expanded commissary, military exchange and Morale Welfare and Recreation, or MWR, access beginning Jan. 1, and has established a standard for physical access to military installations, including Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn.
In accordance with the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018, included in the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, starting Jan. 1, 2020, access will expand to include all veterans with service-connected disabilities, veterans who are Purple Heart recipients, veterans who are former prisoners of war, and individuals approved and designated as the primary family caregivers of eligible veterans under the Department of Veterans Affairs Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.
This expansion will extend eligibility to over 4.1 million new patrons, but the Department anticipates little to no impact on current patrons in most locations. There may be some impact in areas with a high cost of living, but the DOD is preparing to accommodate all new patrons.
"These new privileges recognize the service and sacrifice of these veterans and those that care for them," said A.T. Johnston, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Military Community and Family Policy. "If you or someone you know might be eligible for these privileges, share the message. Please help us ensure these veterans and caregivers receive the privileges they've been granted."
Veterans and primary family caregivers who are eligible and want to take advantage of in-person benefits must have a Veterans Health Identification Card, or VHIC. Primary family caregivers must have an eligibility letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Community Care.
Veterans currently use VHICs for identification and check-in at VA appointments, but will also use them for base access under the new program. Veterans eligible solely under this act who are eligible to obtain a VHIC must use this credential for in-person installation and privilege access. The card must display the veteran’s eligibility status (e.g., Purple Heart, former prisoner of war or military-service connected). Veterans eligible solely under this act who are not enrolled in or are not eligible to enroll in VA health care, or who are enrolled in VA health care, but do not possess a VHIC will not have access to DOD and Coast Guard installations for in-person commissary, exchange and MWR retail privileges, but will have full access to online exchanges and American Forces Travel. Medal of Honor recipients and veterans with 100 percent service-connected disability ratings are eligible for DOD credentials under DOD policy.
How to get a VHIC
Veterans must be enrolled in the VA health care system to receive a VHIC. To enroll, complete an application for enrollment in VA health care by telephone without the need for a signed-paper application. Just call 877-222-VETS (8387) Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. EST. Veterans can also apply for VA healthcare benefits online at www.va.gov/healthbenefits/enroll, or in-person at a local VA medical facility. Once enrollment is verified, veterans can have their picture taken at their local VA medical center, and VA will mail the VHIC.
ID needed for VHIC
To ensure a veteran’s identity, enrollees must provide one form of primary identification when requesting a VHIC. Acceptable forms of primary identification are: a state-issued driver’s license; a U.S. passport or passport card; or another form of government ID.
This ID can be issued by federal, state or local government agencies provided it contains a photograph, name, date of birth and address. If the address is not on the proofing document, veterans can provide separate documentation to confirm their address. Acceptable address documents include: electric bill, cable bill, other mailing document, or voter registration card.
How long does it take?
Once the picture for the ID is taken, veterans should receive their VHIC within 10 days. If they have any questions, veterans should contact their local VA medical facility where they receive care or call 877-222-VETS (8387).
Primary family caregivers of eligible veterans
Eligible caregivers will receive an eligibility letter from VA’s Office of Community Care.
If a primary family caregiver under the PCAFC loses their eligibility letter, please call 877-733-7927 to request a replacement. Please allow two weeks for processing.
For installation access, entry to some commissary stores and at point of sale at commissaries, exchanges, and MWR retail facilities, eligible caregivers will need to show an acceptable credential along with their eligibility letter. Acceptable credentials may include:
• DOD common access card (when otherwise eligible)
• DOD uniformed services identification card (when otherwise eligible)
• REAL ID-compliant driver’s license issued by a state, territory, possession, or the District of Columbia
• REAL ID-compliant non-driver’s identification card issued by a state, territory, possession, or the District of Columbia
• Enhanced driver’s license issued by a state, territory, possession, or the District of Columbia
• U.S. passport or passport card
• Foreign passport bearing an unexpired immigrant or non-immigrant visa or entry stamp
• Federal personal identity verification card (when otherwise eligible)
• Transportation Worker Identification Card
First visit to an installation using the VHIC
Upon the first visit to an installation, eligible veterans and caregivers must stop at the Visitor Control Center, or VCC. Depending on the type of installation, veterans may enroll for recurring access, which allows them to proceed to the gate for entry upon subsequent visits without having to stop again at the VCC.
As with all other individuals seeking access to DOD installations, all eligible veterans must pass a basic on-the-spot background check prior to enrolling and an automated check each time they enter the installation. Veterans with felony convictions, felony arrest warrants, or other types of derogatory information related to criminal history or terrorism will not be permitted entry.
To learn more about the commissary, military exchange and MWR expansion, visit: https://download.militaryonesource.mil/12038/MOS/Factsheets/expanding-access-fact-sheet.pdf. The following websites are also available for more information about military resale privileges:
Army and Air Force Exchange Service (https://www.shopmyexchange.com/vets)
Coast Guard Exchange (https://shopCGX.com)
Defense Commissary Agency (https://www.commissaries.com/)
Navy Exchange (https://www.mynavyexchange.com/)
Marine Corps Exchange (http://www.mymcx.com/)
Military Star Card (https://www.myecp.com/)
American Forces Travel (https://www.americanforcestravel.com)
This article was compiled using information from the “Department of Defense Expanding Access to Commissaries, Military Exchanges and Recreation Facilities” and “Veterans with Veteran Health ID Card can shop at Military Exchange starting Jan. 1” news releases.