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SERVING OUR VETERANS: Disabled veterans access to commissaries and exchanges

By Staff | Jan 3, 2020

The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 provides certain veterans and caregivers of veterans access to Department of Defense (DoD) commissaries, exchanges, and morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) retail facilities beginning Jan. 1, 2020. Medal of Honor recipients and veterans with 100% service-connected disability ratings already enjoy DoD installation and commissary, exchange and MWR access. This act extends access to these facilities to the following additional categories and caregivers of veterans:

– Purple Heart recipients

– Former prisoners of war

– Veterans with VA documented service-connected disability ratings from 0 to 90 percent.

– Individuals assessed, approved and designated as primary family caregivers of eligible veterans under the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.

To access DoD installations and privileges starting Jan. 1, 2020, eligible veterans will need to present proof of their eligibility category (Purple Heart, former POW, or service-connected). Caregivers will need to present their eligibility letter from the VA Office of Community Care. Eligible veterans and caregivers will have to stop at the visitor control center the first time they visit an installation to be vetted. The vetting process includes identity, purpose and security checks. The previous mentioned credentials are required for proof of identity and purpose. In addition, a security check for criminal history and terrorism will be conducted. After identity, purpose and security are all verified, the installation may enroll the veteran or caregiver into the electronic access control system for recurring access on subsequent visits. These credentials will also need to be presented at either entry or point-of-sale locations at commissaries, exchanges and MWR retail activities to use these benefits.

Newly eligible veterans and caregivers of veterans will be authorized to use military commissaries. Commissaries offer an average savings over commercial grocery stores of 23.7 percent, inclusive of a mandated 5 percent surcharge on all commissary purchases that pays for commissary construction, equipment and maintenance. All commissary shoppers pay this 5 percent surcharge. In addition to the surcharge, eligible veterans and caregivers must also pay a small user fee if they purchase with a commercial credit card or debit card. To avoid this credit/debit card user fee, patrons can opt to pay with cash, check or the MILITARY STAR card, which is a credit card available exclusively to individuals who are eligible to access military commissaries and exchanges. The credit/debit card user fee rate will range between 0.5 percent and 1.9 percent, depending on the type of commercial credit or debit card used, so that the average savings will still be more than 21.8 percent.

All of the military service exchanges will be accessible, including the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, Marine Corps Exchange, Navy Exchange and Coast Guard Exchange. These retail stores offer great deals on apparel, home goods, electronics, sporting goods, office supplies, seasonal products and more.

MWR retails activities such as golf courses, bowling centers, entertainment, clubs, restaurants, marinas, equipment rental, movie theaters, vehicle storage, recreational vehicle parks, recreational lodging, resorts and kennels will also be available.

In addition to all the above in-person privileges, veterans and caregivers eligible under this Act will have access to online exchanges and AmericanForcesTravel.com. Online options are convenient and offer the same great deals as in-store whether you are far from an installation or just prefer to shop from the comfort of your home.

Finally, family members and other guests may accompany eligible veterans and caregivers onto military installations and into facilities but are not authorized to make purchases and must remain with the sponsoring veteran or caregiver at all times while on the installation. All guests must have proper forms of identification, such as a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or U.S. passport, and undergo a security check for criminal records or terrorism – the same as any visitor to the installation.

Feel free to contact me should you need more specific information on these new veteran privileges.

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