Starting on January 1, 2020, a large group of veterans and military caregivers will now have access to military facilities, including the Commissary, Exchanges, and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) locations. The Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018 called for expanded benefits for veterans with service-connected disability ratings, veterans who have been awarded a Purple Heart, former POWs, and qualified PCAFC caregivers.
Prior to this law, the only individuals who could access these benefits were those who were currently serving in the military, military retirees, Medal of Honor recipients, and veterans with a 100% service-connected disability rating. (MoH recipients and those with a 100% service-connected disability rating are eligible for DoD-issued ID card under current DoD policy, and already have access to these base amenities).
Who is Eligible for Expanded Commissary, Exchange, and MWR Benefits?
In addition to those who were already eligible, the DoD is expanding Commissary, Exchange, and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) retail eligibility to:
- Purple Heart recipients
- Former Prisoners of War (POWs)
- All veterans with service-connected disabilities
- Approved PCAF Caregivers*
*Approved caregivers are individuals who have been approved and designated as the primary family caregivers of eligible veterans under the Department of Veterans Affairs Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. You can learn more about this program at the VA website.
What Access Does this Cover?
Those who are eligible for base access under these new rules will be eligible to access the following facilities starting Jan. 1, 2020:
- Military Service Exchanges
- Select MWR Retail Facilities
Some examples of the MWR Retail activities include entertainment, clubs, recreational lodging/resorts, special interest activities, bowling, golf, restaurants, marinas, equipment rental, movie theaters, vehicle storage, kennels, recreational lodging, RV campgrounds, AmericanForcesTravel.com and more.
Use of MWR activities primarily funded by appropriations and child development programs are not authorized under this program.
*Note About Commissary Access: The DoD is required to charge a small fee to new users who are eligible solely under the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018, to cover any increase in costs to the U.S. Treasury for processing commercial credit and debit cards.
Which Forms of ID Are Required for Base Access?
The DoD recently announced the rules for how newly eligible veterans and caregivers will be able to gain base access to take advantage of the Commissary, Exchange, and MWR facilities.
Veterans with a service-connected disability will need a Veterans Health Identification Card, or VHIC, to able to gain access to the bases and use these facilities. The VHIC must state the veteran’s eligibility. For example, the card must have a designation for Purple Heart, Former POW, or Service Connected rating. This is indicated on the card itself.
The new Veterans ID Card, or VIC, is not an authorized form of ID for this program and will not work for base access. Only the VHIC qualifies as an authorized form of ID.
Primary Family Caregivers must have an eligibility letter from VA’s Office of Community Care.
Veteran Eligibility – Purple Heart, POW, or Service-Connected Disability Rating
Veterans with a Purple Heart, a service-connected disability rating, or those who were a POW are eligible under this new program. Qualifying VA disability ratings are from 0% – 90% (those with a 100% rating are already eligible for a DoD-issued ID card and already have access to military installations).
Veterans will need a Veterans Healthcare Identification Card (VHIC) to access military installations.
How to Obtain a Veterans Healthcare Identification Card
The Veteran Health Identification Card will be the primary form of base access under this new program.
The VHIC is issued to veterans with a service-connected disability rating who are enrolled in the VA healthcare system and are eligible for VA healthcare benefits. The VHICs are issued at VA medical centers and are used for ID when checking in for appointments at the VA.
You can apply for VA healthcare benefits in the following ways:
- In-person at your local VA medical facility,
- Or by phone by calling 1-877-222-VETS (8387). Hours are 8 am – 8 pm EST, M-F.
You can visit a VA healthcare facility to have your picture taken for the Veteran Health Identification Card after your enrollment has been verified. Be sure to bring proper identification with you, such as a government-issued ID. Your local VA medical center can provide additional information regarding acceptable forms of ID.
The VA will mail your card within 7-10 business days.
- The card must display the Veteran’s eligibility status (i.e., Purple Heart, Former POW, or Service Connected).
Under the current rules, veterans will only be allowed to access the base if they have the Veterans Healthcare Identification Card. Those who do not have a VHIC or are ineligible for a VHIC will not be able to access DoD and Coast Guard installations.
However, they would still be eligible to use the online Exchanges, which opened up eligibility to all veterans in 2018.
According to the VA, the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) is only available to veterans who were seriously injured in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001. The VA has plans to expand the PCAFC program to veterans from other eras in the near future. You can learn more here.
Enhanced services for eligible participants may include a financial stipend, access to health care insurance, mental health services and counseling, caregiver training, and respite care.
The VA has more information on which veterans qualify under this program.
The VA also has a Caregiver Eligibility Check questionnaire which helps caregivers understand if they may be eligible for this PCAFC program.
Caregivers who meet the eligibility criteria should download VA Form 10-10CG (PDF) and send in their application.
PCAFC Caregivers – VA Letter of Eligibility
Only caregivers for veterans who qualify for this program are eligible to access the base facilities. Caregivers will be issued an eligibility letter by the VA’s Office of Community Care. Contact your local VA healthcare facility for more information on the PCAFC letter, or call 1-877-733-7927.
In addition to the letter from the VA, caregivers must have a personal photo ID to access the military installation. These can include any of the following:
- REAL ID-compliant driver’s license of ID 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
- DoD Common Access Card (CAC)
- DoD uniformed services identification card
- U.S. passport or passport card
- Federal personal identity verification card (when otherwise eligible)
- Transportation Worker ID Card
- Foreign passport bearing an unexpired immigrant or non-immigrant visa or entry stamp
Accessing Military Installations for the First Time Under These New Rules
The DoD has announced that there will be special procedures for veterans and caregivers accessing military installations for the first time under these new rules.
Visitors should stop at the visitor control center or Pass & ID office prior to their first visit to the base under these new rules. Some bases may allow veterans to sign up for recurring base access, which will allow them to bypass the visitor center on subsequent visits.
All veterans and caregivers visiting the base under these new rules are subject to the same rules as others who enter a DoD installation. This means they may be subject to vehicle inspections, background checks, and other forms of security screening.
Veterans or caregivers with felony convictions, felony arrest warrants, or other types of derogatory information related to criminal history or terrorism will not be permitted entry.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if I am Eligible but Don’t Have a VHIC?
When this program launches on Jan. 1, 2020, only veterans with a secure, scannable VA-issued VHIC will be authorized access to in-person Commissary, Military Exchange, and MWR privileges on DoD and Coast Guard installations.
The DoD and VA are seeking a credentialing solution for all Veterans eligible under the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018. The DoD will announce a solution when they have identified the best way to proceed.
Are Family Members Eligible?
These benefits are only extended to the veteran and/or the caregiver. These benefits do not apply to the veteran’s family members or dependents. It may be possible to sponsor family members onto the military installation. However, they will not be able to access these facilities or use these amenities without the eligible veteran. Family members who are sponsored onto the base must have a valid form of ID and may be required to go through a quick background check prior to being permitted access to the military installation.
Does This Access Extend to Overseas Locations?
Veterans and Caregivers will be able to use this benefit at military installations located in the United States and its territories and possessions. However, access cannot be guaranteed at all overseas locations due to status of forces agreements, local laws and other agreements with host countries.
Will Newly Eligible Veterans Pay More for the Same Services?
There will be no price changes or additional fees for purchases made at the Exchanges or at MWR retail activities.
Commissary Purchases may be subject to additional fees if the newly eligible member pays with a credit card or debit card. This is done to offset the additional fees associated with these forms of payment.
Purchases made with a commercial credit card or Signature debit card, which is accepted and processed as credit, will be charged an additional 1.9 percent user fee, while purchases with a personal identification number (PIN) debit card will be charged a 0.5 percent user fee.
These fees may be adjusted annually and these fees will not be refunded for product returns.
These fees are not applicable to customers who use the MILITARY STAR Card or who use electronic benefit transfer cards, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Will Newly Eligible Veterans Be Eligible for the MILITARY STAR Card?
They will be eligible to apply for the Military Star Card. However, approval is based on individual credit-worthiness.