Military Advantage

Got a VA Rating? You Can Get a Free Lifetime National Parks Pass

An entrance station at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. (National Park Service)
An entrance station at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. (National Park Service)

A little-known benefit from the Interior Department gives military veterans with any disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs a free lifetime pass to national parks and other recreation areas, as well as discounts on some fees.

The lifetime Access Pass is advertised as available to those who "have been medically determined to have a permanent disability ... does not have to be a 100 percent disability."

But a National Parks official confirmed to Military.com that any veteran with a disability rating from the VA should be able to access it.

"If a veteran has [a] disability paper that states they have a 10 percent disability, etc., the ranger would accept it," Kathy Kupper, a National Parks spokesperson, said in an email.

An Interior Department website also gives examples of proof of disability paperwork accepted from the VA, including awards letters and benefits summaries -- but the examples do not include "permanent and total" disability ratings.

The discrepancy between the Interior Department's "permanent disability" statement and what does and does not qualify as "permanent" to the VA is likely a matter of bureaucratic definitions.

While the VA defines a "permanent disability" as something 100 percent disabling that will not improve over time, the Interior Department defers to the Americans With Disabilities Act, which defines a disability as a "physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities."

Just like the annual free military America the Beautiful Pass, which is available to active-duty troops, Guardsmen and reservists and their dependents, the Access Pass will give free entrance to the pass holder and any other passengers at "per vehicle" locations. But unlike that military pass, the Access Pass is good only for the pass holder at "per person" locations.

The Access Pass also offers benefits the military pass does not, such as discounted "expanded amenity" fees. Those could include discounts for individual campsites, some guided tours and some in-park transportation or special use permits.

The pass can be obtained in person at one of these locations. It can also be received by mail for a $10 fee by filling out and mailing in a paper application.

Kupper said if a ranger will not accept a veteran's VA disability rating paperwork for some reason, he or she should fill out the by-mail application.

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