GREAT FALLS — The Department of Defense said in a news release recently that it is expanding commissary, military exchange, and morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) retail privileges on U.S. military installations for several groups of people.
Starting January 1st, 2020, access will expand to include all veterans with service-connected disabilities, Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, and individuals approved and designated as the primary family caregivers of eligible veterans under the Department of Veterans Affairs Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.
The changes are specified in the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018, included in the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.
While this expansion will extend eligibility to more than 4.1 million new patrons, the DOD expects little-to-no impact on current patrons in most locations. The press release notes that there may be some impact in areas with a high cost of living, but the DOD is preparing to accommodate new patrons.
"These new privileges recognize the service and sacrifice of these veterans and those that care for them," said A.T. Johnston, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Military Community and Family Policy. "If you or someone you know might be eligible for these privileges, share the message. Help us ensure these veterans and caregivers receive the privileges they've been granted."
The DOD is finalizing the details for these new privileges with the Departments of VA, Homeland Security, and the Treasury. Information will be announced regarding installation access and the authentication process for these privileges.
The VA website says that veterans and primary family caregivers who are eligible and want to take advantage of in-person benefits must have a Veterans Health Identification Card, or VHIC. Primary Family Caregivers must have an eligibility letter from VA’s Office of Community Care. Veterans must be enrolled in the VA health care system to receive a VHIC. To enroll, you can complete an application for enrollment in VA health care by telephone without the need for a signed paper application. Just call 1-877-222-VETS (8387) Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Eastern. You can also apply for VA healthcare benefits online at www.va.gov/healthbenefits/enroll, 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 VA will mail you a VHIC.
While not all veterans are eligible for in-person privileges on DoD installations, all honorably discharged veterans are eligible for online military exchange shopping through the Veterans Online Shopping Benefit. To access your online shopping benefit, veterans not eligible for in-person privileges should follow the instructions to establish an account at any of the following military exchange websites, or the VA’s Veterans Canteen Service:
- Army and Air Force Exchange System: https://www.shopmyexchange.com
- Coast Guard Exchange: https://shopCGX.com
- Marine Corps Exchange: http://www.mymcx.com
- Navy Exchange: https://www.mynavyexchange.com
- Veterans Canteen Service: https://shopvcs.va.gov