By Michelle SchneiderNovember 21, 2019
The Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs combined efforts to allow Commissary and Exchange use beyond its current patron base. Starting Jan. 1, 2020, Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, all service-connected disabled veterans and caregivers enrolled in the VA's Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program will be permitted to shop there.
Newly-eligible veterans and caregivers will also have access to all Department of Defense and Coast Guard MWR retail activities, including: entertainment, clubs, recreational lodging and resorts, special interest activities, bowling, golf, restaurants, marinas, equipment rental, movie theaters, vehicle storage, kennels, AmericanForcesTravel.com and more.
Current restrictions and upcoming changes include the following: DOD civilians cannot use the Commissary and Exchange. Any veteran can shop at the Exchange online, but it does not mean they have in-store privileges. Currently, active duty servicemembers, their dependents and retirees can only shop there.
With the Commissary opening its doors to eligible veterans and caregivers, there will be newly added costs to their purchases at the commissary as mandated by the DOD. Under the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, the extra costs associated with their purchase will offset any increased expenses incurred by the Department of the Treasury associated with the use of credit and debit cards.
There will be a standard 5% surcharge for Commissary purchases in addition to a 1.9% fee for credit cards and .5% fees for debit card use. Commissary customers do not have to pay these added fees if they make their purchase using cash, check or with the Military Star card.
In order to make a purchase, veterans must present their Veterans Health Identification Card at the point of sale at Commissary and Exchange stores as well as at MWR centers to complete their transaction. Visit https://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/vhic for information regarding eligibility for the VHIC and the application process.
Newly-eligible patrons are encouraged to go to the visitors' center at the military or DOD installation they plan to use their new privileges at to register their credentials. Veterans must bring their Veteran Health Identification Card and caregivers must bring their eligibility letter that will be sent out via mail by the VA. They must also present picture identification that meets the REAL ID Act requirements, such as a valid state driver's license or passport.
Before being placed in the system, new patrons must pass a background check that will happen when they enroll in the system. Veterans with felony convictions, arrests, warrants or other types of derogatory information related to criminal history will not be permitted entry.
Once their identification is validated and they pass a background check, patrons can regularly access secure military installations to shop.
Army & Air Force Exchange Service Director/CEO Tom Shulll, USMA Class of 1973, shared why they are looking forward to extending shopping and recreation privileges to a wider military community.
"It is an honor to welcome home these heroes to their Exchange," Shull said. "They fought for us. They sacrificed for us. They deserve this benefit. It is a truly a privilege to serve them once again."