by Brian Lamar, US Navy Public Affairs
One source of frustration for Sailors who separate before completing minimum 20 years required to be categorized as a retiree has been the loss of access to the commissary, the Naval Exchange and Morale Welfare and Recreation events and services.
A new set of guidelines being implemented Jan. 1 gives veterans with a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)-documented service-connected disability rating, Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, and primary family caregivers for veterans enrolled in the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers new access to shop at base commissaries, exchanges and enjoy certain Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs.
The new inclusive rules were laid out in the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018 and included in the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.
“We look forward to welcoming our new expanded Navy family. It will be an honor to now have the opportunity to serve veterans who sacrificed and served this country,” said Capt. Bill Whitmire, commanding officer of the Naval Construction Battalion Center.
The new access allows veterans to not only shop at the base, but to participate in MWR events that help them acclimatize back into the Navy culture. These programs include movie theaters, car washes, arts and crafts centers, auto skills, vehicle storage, community recreation (outdoor recreation equipment rentals, and tickets and travel), RV park rentals and Navy Gateway Inns & Suites (NGIS), Navy Getaways, and special events/entertainment where open to all rate categories. Unfortunately, the program does not apply to certain facilities and services like the fitness center or the child development center.
New base patrons can also take advantage of AmericanForcesTravel.com, MWR’s exclusive travel-booking website,” Patrons can access the website at www.americanforcestravel.com/?refclickid=navyvetarticle.
Along with some MWR activity use, the benefit expansion includes commissary shopping privileges as well as military resale and Navy lodging. Lodging reservations start on Dec. 31, 2019 for stay dates beginning Jan. 1, 2020 and can be made at www.dodlodging.net or 1-877-NAVYBED. This new initiative is expected to extend eligibility to about 4.1 million new patrons, comprised of nearly 1.5 million veterans who live within an hour of a military installation, of which 406,546 are U.S. Navy veterans.
To access DoD installations and obtain expanded privileges starting Jan. 1, 2020, veterans must present a Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC) from VA that displays their eligibility category: “Purple Heart, former POW or service-connected.” Caregivers must present an eligibility letter from the VA Office of Community Care that indicates they are the primary family caregiver for an eligible veteran under the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers and are eligible for these privileges, paired with an acceptable identification credential, such as a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or a U.S. passport. These credentials will need to be presented at MWR facilities and point-of-sale locations.
For more information about obtaining a VHIC or a letter from Veterans Affairs, visit your local VA medical facility or call 1-877-222-VETS (8387), Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., Eastern Standard Time.
“Veterans interested in services and facilities located on NCBC should stop by the Pass and ID office located at the Pass Rd. Gate complex,” said Whitmire.
“Exercising patience during this new expansion is paramount. The safety and security of our base and its population is our number one priority,” said Ensign Will Clark, installation security officer. “We are dedicated to providing top-notch customer service to our veterans as they come to the base to process their base access.”