Disabled Veterans Authorized Access to Commissaries, Exchanges and MWR Retail Activities
The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 provides certain veterans and certain caregivers of veterans access to Department of Defense commissaries, exchanges and morale, welfare and recreation retail facilities beginning Jan. 1, 2020. DoD and the departments of Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and the Treasury have worked out details and logistics to implement this act on Jan. 1.
Who is Eligible
Medal of Honor recipients and veterans with 100% service-connected disability ratings documented by the VA already enjoy DoD installation and commissary, exchange and MWR access under DoD policy. This act extends access to military commissaries, exchanges and MWR retail activities to the following additional categories of veterans and caregivers of veterans:
- Purple Heart recipients
- Former prisoners of war
- Veterans with VA-documented service-connected disability ratings from 0% to 90%
- Individuals assessed, approved and designated as the primary family caregivers of eligible veterans under the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.
How to Access Installations and Privileges
To access DoD installations and privileges starting Jan. 1, these newly authorized patrons will need to present the following:
- Current VA-issued Veteran Health Identification Card, or VHIC, that displays their eligibility category: PURPLE HEART, FORMER POW or SERVICE-CONNECTED.
- If ineligible to obtain a VHIC, DoD will temporarily accept the VA Health Eligibility Center Form H623A indicating placement in Priority Group 8E, paired with an acceptable identification credential, like a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or a U.S. passport until DoD and the VA identify a long-term credential for this small group of veterans. Driver’s licenses that are not REAL-ID-compliant will not be accepted for entry.
- Caregivers: Current eligibility letter from the VA Office of Community Care that indicates they are designated as 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, like a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or a U.S. passport. Driver’s licenses that are not REAL-ID-compliant will not be accepted for entry.
Eligible veterans and caregivers will have to stop at the visitor control center the first time they visit an installation to undergo an on-the-spot fitness check for criminal history and terrorism. Once successfully completing the fitness check, the installation may enroll the veteran or caregiver into the electronic access control system for recurring access on subsequent visits if: (1) the installation has access control system enrollment capabilities; and (2) the identity credential presented is enrollable in the system. VHICs and REAL-ID compliant driver’s licenses are enrollable credentials. By being enrolled in the system, the individual will avoid having to check in at the visitor control center each visit.
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%, inclusive of a mandated 5% surcharge on all commissary purchases that pays for commissary construction, equipment and maintenance. All commissary shoppers pay this 5% surcharge. In addition to the surcharge, veterans and caregivers eligible solely under this act must also pay a small user fee if they pay for their purchase with a commercial credit or debit card. This is a requirement of the act to offset any increased expenses incurred by the Department of the Treasury associated with the use of credit or debit cards. 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% and 1.9%, depending on the type of commercial credit or debit card used, so that average savings will still be more than 21.8%.
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 retail 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. These MWR activities receive little to no appropriated fund support and are intended to be self-sufficient. The MWR activities that more closely support service member readiness and resiliency and are primarily supported by appropriated funds such as fitness centers, libraries and child development programs, will not be available for use by these new patrons.
In addition to these 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 home. Check them out at:
- Army and Air Force Exchange Service
- Marine Corps Exchange
- Navy Exchange
- Coast Guard Exchange
- American Forces Travel℠
Other Things You Should Know
If allowed by the installation commander, family members and other guests may accompany eligible veterans or caregivers onto the installation 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 of veterans and caregivers must have proper forms of identification, such as a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or U.S. passport, and undergo the same on-the-spot fitness check as the eligible veteran or caregiver – the same as any visitor to the installation. Veterans and caregivers eligible solely under this Act cannot escort their family members and guests or vouch for guests that cannot establish their own identity, or fitness, but once the family member or guest completes the required checks, they can accompany the eligible veteran or caregiver onto the installation and they can enroll their credential, just as the veteran or caregiver can, to facilitate future visits with the eligible veteran or caregiver. It is important that eligible veterans and caregivers understand that conditions vary from installation to installation and guest access may be restricted, as well as what identification they and their guests need to bring with them in advance to avoid being denied access. The Department of Defense cannot ease security requirements to accommodate access to installations.
Newly eligible veterans and caregivers must also be aware that if they are visiting or living in a foreign country where U.S. military installations are located, access to those installations and commissary, exchange and MWR retail privileges is subject to the limitations of applicable host nation law and applicable international agreements, such as status of forces agreements, so they may be denied access.
These privileges are authorized on Coast Guard installations, too. The same credentialing and access rules and procedures apply.
Access more information at the Expanding Access Fact Sheet.
We’re looking forward to welcoming you home on Jan. 1.