New year brings expanded eligibility for commissary, exchange and MWR facilities
Starting Jan. 1, 2020, the Department of Defense is expanding access to a number of base commissary stores, exchange services, and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) retail facilities for veterans and caregivers.
In addition, newly eligible patrons will be able to access facilities such as golf courses, bowling centers, recreational lodging, RV campgrounds and movie theaters.
Access will expand to include all veterans with service-connected disabilities, veterans who are Purple Heart recipients and veterans who are former prisoners of war. Reserve members who meet any of these criteria are also eligible, and all honorably discharged veterans will be eligible for online military exchange shopping.
During the first phase of rollout, eligibility will also extend to primary family caregivers, but only those approved under the Department of Veterans Affairs Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. According to DOD guidance, “when the VA formalizes approval and designation of general caregivers under the Program of General Caregiver Support Services, the Department of Defense will consider expansion of caregiver privileges to this group.”
“These policy changes have been important priorities for our members for some time,” said National Commander Butch Whitehead. “We’re grateful to see this finally coming to fruition for veterans, though we are disappointed that so many family caregivers may be left out because they are not yet able to enroll in the VA’s caregiver program due to the ongoing delays.”
Veterans who are eligible to obtain a Veteran Health Identification Card must use this credential for base access and to use these privileges. The card must display the veteran’s eligibility status, whether that be service-connected disabled, former POW or Purple Heart recipient. Upon the first visit to an installation, veterans must stop at the visitor control center.
Eligible veterans must pass a basic on-the-spot background check prior to enrolling and an automated check each time they enter the installation. Veterans with felony convictions or arrest warrants will not be permitted entry.
As of now, veterans who are not enrolled in or are not eligible to enroll in VA health care, or who are enrolled in VA health care but do not possess a Veteran Health Identification Card, will not have access to DOD and Coast Guard installations for in-person commissary, exchange and MWR retail privileges, but will still be able to utilize online exchanges and American Forces Travel.
The defense commissary system is congressionally mandated to charge all current and new patrons a 5% surcharge on all purchases to pay for commissary construction, equipment and maintenance. The Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Canteen Service, or VCS, offers retail and food services to enrolled veterans. Like the exchange, all purchases are tax-free. There are no user fees associated with these benefits.
In addition, VCS offers a new program called shopvcs.com, that allows eligible veterans and their family members to expand retail options online. A portion of VCS profits support programs that assist veterans including the National Disabled Veterans TEE (Training, Exposure, Experience) Tournament presented by DAV and VA.