One month after all disabled veterans were given commissary and exchange privileges, many are still running into base access issues.
The Department of Veterans Affairs said it is working with the Defense Department to make base access easier for all newly eligible veterans.
It was supposed to be simple. The VA and DoD had more than a year to get the program working so that all a newly eligible veteran had to do was show their Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC) to gate personnel to be granted base access. But it isn't working quite like that.
According to the VA, many veterans are having problems accessing military installations because the scanners used by gate guards won't read a lot of VHICs. Older cards, with the vertical barcode along the short right side, won't work because the guards' scanners can't read them.
Some bases are allowing access if you have a VHIC and a secondary form of identification, such as a passport or driver's license. But other installations, especially those with higher security, will not allow access even with the secondary ID.
Remember, to access a military installation, you need to use your Veterans Health ID Card (VHIC), not the free Veterans ID card that is available to all vets. The law specifically states that only disabled veterans, caregivers, Purple Heart recipients and former prisoners of war are eligible for the new benefits.
You must be enrolled in the VA health care system to receive a VHIC. To enroll, you can complete an application by telephone at 877-222-8387. You can also apply for VA health care benefits online or in person at your local VA medical facility. Once your enrollment is verified, you can have your picture taken at your local VA medical center, and the VA will mail you a VHIC.
If you had one of the older cards or lost your VHIC, you can contact the VA medical facility where your picture was taken to request a new card or call 877-222-8387 for assistance.
Base Access for Spouses
Let's face it, many veterans like to take their spouse along when shopping at the commissary or exchange, and nothing is worse than driving an hour to visit a military installation only to find out your spouse isn't allowed through the gate.
While the law specifically states that "caregivers" of disabled veterans are authorized base, commissary and exchange access, there is a difference how the VA and DoD define caregivers, escorts and guests.
The VA said that it's probably best to call ahead to find out the local policy for visitors accompanying veterans on base.
In general, newly eligible veterans with a VHIC don't automatically get to bring a guest on base with them. Caregivers accepted into the VA’s caregiver program must present their state or federal ID card, along with a VA-issued caregiver eligibility letter, to be given access. Installations have varying policies about allowing guests on base.
The DoD is working to allow all eligible veterans to bring a guest with them. But until that happens, your guest will have to check in with the security office and provide acceptable identification. Hopefully, once they are authorized, they will be allowed future access without issues, but that would only be true at the same base. If you try to go to a different base with your spouse, the whole process must be repeated.
Also, once you get on base, the commissary or exchange may not allow guests into the store. This is especially true at foreign bases. Your best bet is to call ahead.
Once you get on base, you must remember that you've left the civilian world behind. If it's been a few years since you've been on a military installation, it may be time to remember how traffic laws, speed limits and off-limits areas work on a federal installation.
Firearms are not permitted on any military installation. Leave them at home.
If you travel with them, you will need to find somewhere secure to store them, in accordance with applicable laws and regulations, before you get to the installation. Introducing a firearm onto a federal reservation is a serious offense.
Some installations have local traffic enforcement regulations that require visitors to provide proof of vehicle registration and insurance, along with a valid motor vehicle operator license, if they are driving aboard the installation.
Speed limits may be strictly enforced. On many bases, 25 mph means 25 mph, and you will get a ticket if you break the traffic laws. And that's a FEDERAL ticket. You can get an Armed Forces Traffic Ticket or even a U.S. District Court Violation, if you aren't careful.
Watch out for pedestrians. You may be happily driving to the commissary and get stuck behind 50 people running PT in the middle of the road. Also, watch for people painting rocks and picking up trash on the side of the roadway.
There are plenty of off-limits areas on every base. You will be detained by a 19-year-old with a gun if you drive down the wrong road. Pay attention.
No matter what ID card you have, there will be times you won't be allowed through the gate. Many bases go through higher threat levels that civilians never hear about. There will be times that the base is shut down. Get used to it.
Finally, remember that this new access also allows disabled veterans to access other exchange and Morale, Welfare & Recreation facilities. Depending on the base, this could mean gas stations, auto hobby shops, recreation equipment rental, bowling alleys, flying clubs, tours, rod and gun clubs, riding stables, etc. While these deals may actually be better than the savings you will see at the commissary or exchange, try to be a good guest and let the younger service members enjoy their benefits too.
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