WASHINGTON -- Beginning New Year's Day, commissaries, post exchanges and recreational facilities across the Department of Defense will open their doors to more than 4.1 million additional veterans, Army officials said.
Privileges will be extended to veterans who are Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, and all who have any level of service-connected disabilities. Individuals who are designated as primary family caregivers of eligible veterans will also be granted privileges if they are recognized under the Department of Veterans Affairs' Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.
"This is great news, and long overdue," said Michael Dukes, a newly eligible veteran for post retail privileges, and a former staff sergeant. "I think this is the honorable thing to do for those who served their country in uniform."
For some returning veterans, it has been a long time since they were on a military installation or in a commissary or military exchange, said Army officials, but they added each of these new patrons has contributed to the military community, either through a service-related sacrifice, or caring for a veteran with a service-connected disability.
Veterans and caregivers will also be authorized to use morale, welfare, and recreation -- or MWR -- retail activities like golf courses, bowling centers, recreational lodging facilities, recreational vehicle campgrounds, and other MWR Category C activities.
"Primary family caregivers of veterans with service-connected disabilities perform a noble and necessary service for veterans and ought to be recognized for their important role and relationship to these veterans," officials stated.
The Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers is currently the only formalized VA caregiver program where assessed, approved, and designated caregivers can be positively tracked and identified in VA databases, so initial caregiver access is limited to those enrolled in this program, sanctioned under Section 1065 of Title 10, United States Code.
VETERAN HEALTH IDENTIFICATION CARD
Veterans eligible solely under this act should have their Veteran Health Identification Card, or VHIC, from the VA, and present it to gain entry to DOD and Coast Guard installations, officials said.
The VHIC must display the veteran's eligibility status, whether it be Purple Heart recipient, former POW, or a service-connected disability.
If a newly eligible veteran is unable to obtain their VHIC, the DOD will temporarily accept the VA Health Eligibility Center Form H623A, indicating placement in Priority Group 8E, paired with an acceptable credential, like a driver's license or a U.S. passport, until DOD and the VA identify a scannable, secure credential for this small group of veterans.
Before Jan. 1, only uniformed service members, their dependents, retirees, veterans who were 100-percent disabled, and Medal of Honor recipients could take advantage of MWR activities.
Previously eligible individuals should continue to use their DOD identification cards for installation and facilities access, officials said.
Temporary lodging facilities on installations will also be available on a space-available basis to the new veterans. Installation commanders are also authorized to grant access to other post activities, such as skills development and outdoor recreation programs, when space is available and the activities are primarily self-funded.
While not all veterans are now eligible for privileges on military installations, all honorably discharged veterans are eligible for online military exchange shopping through the Veterans Online Shopping Benefit.
Visit https://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/vhic for information regarding eligibility for the VHIC and the application process.