In November, the Department of Defense announced that starting Jan. 1, all service-connected disabled veterans, Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, and primary veteran caregivers will be eligible to shop at Defense Commissary Agency and Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores worldwide.
“I want to be one of the first to welcome home this group of veterans to their commissary,” retired Rear Adm. Robert J. Bianchi, DoD special assistant for commissary operations, said. “Whether they shopped at the commissary when they were on active duty, or are first-time shoppers, we are sure they will enjoy the savings and excellent customer experience associated with this benefit.”
The newly-eligible customers will also be able to use certain morale, welfare and recreation activities. These new privileges were specified in the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018, included in the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2019. The DoD officially announced the expansion Nov. 13.
“It is an honor to welcome our nation’s heroes back to their Exchange,” Exchange Director/CEO Tom Shull, a Vietnam-era Army veteran, said. “They fought for us. They sacrificed for us. They deserve this.”
Fort Hood has established procedures for these newly-eligible customers to access the installation. Those procedures are in place now.
“In order to take advantage of this expanded access, eligible participants must have a valid Veteran Health Identification Card, or VHIC, issued by the Department of Veteran Affairs and be vetted at the Fort Hood Visitor’s Welcome Center, located in Building 69012 on T.J. Mills Blvd., adjacent to the Fort Hood main gate,” John Spivey, chief of the Access Control Branch of Fort Hood’s Directorate of Emergency Services, stated in a memo released Dec. 5.
“Once vetted at the Fort Hood Visitor’s Welcome Center, eligible veterans can present their VHIC to gain entry to DoD and Coast Guard installations and some commissary stores; and at point of sale at commissaries, exchanges and morale, welfare and recreation retail activities to complete their transactions,” Spivey noted, adding that the VHIC must display the veteran’s eligibility status (i.e., Purple Heart, former POW or service connected).
Individuals designated as the primary family caregiver must present their VA-issued designation letter at the Visitor’s Welcome Center for vetting. Once vetted, they will be issued an access pass.
Though eligible veterans and authorized family caregivers begins Jan. 1, Spivey said it might be helpful for them to begin the registration process now, in order to avoid the rush.
The DoD, Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Homeland Security (the expansion also applies to Coast Guard facilities) have partnered to make the expansion possible. Details of eligibility and military installation access follow:
• Disabled and other eligible veterans: The VHIC, with “Purple Heart,” “former POW” or “service connected” printed on the front, will be required for access into the installation and entry to the stores.
• Caregivers: The benefit applies to the approved and designated primary family caregiver of service-connected disabled veterans who are registered in the Department of Veterans Affairs Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers to receive shopping privileges. Visit the VA’s caregiver page for more information. Beginning in November, the VA will start sending memos for caregivers to be used for access at the front gate, along with an identification card, compliant driver’s license or other approved government-issued photo ID.
“Our new patrons have earned this benefit through their service and subsequent personal sacrifice to our nation or by caring for a veteran with a service-connected disability,” Bianchi said. “We are honored to open our doors to these heroes and eligible caregivers.”
For more information on this new program, visit www.militaryonesource.mil/expanding-access.
To determine eligibility, visit a local VA medical facility, call 1-877-222-VETS (8387), from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. (eastern time) Monday through Friday, or apply online at VA.gov (https://www.va.gov/health-care/how-to-apply/).
For more information about registration procedures for on-post access, call the Marvin Leath Visitors Center at 254-287-9909.
(Editor’s note: This article contains information provided from the Defense Commissary Agency and Army and Air Force Exchange Service releases.)