Commissaries, exchanges welcome veterans

FORT CARSON, Colo. — The beginning of the new year brings changes to commissaries, post exchanges and recreational facilities across the DOD, as it will open its doors to more than 4.1 million additional veterans. (Photo by Aleah M. Castrejon)

By Thomas Brading, Army News Service

WASHINGTON —The beginning of the new year brought changes to commissaries, post exchanges (PX) and recreational facilities across the DOD, as they will open their doors to more than 4.1 million additional veterans, Army officials said.

It’s been more than 65 years since Arnold Reichenthal, a 92-year-old disabled veteran, who served in World War II and the Korean War, has shopped with his military exchanges.

“I earned this,” Reichenthal said. “And we have the PX close by. I’m going to use it.”

Privileges are extended to veterans who are Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war and all who have any level of service-connected disabilities. Individuals who are designated as primary Family caregivers of eligible veterans will also be granted privileges if they are recognized under the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.

“It is an honor to welcome Seaman Reichenthal and our nation’s heroes back to their Exchange,” said Exchange Director/CEO Tom Shull, a Vietnam-era Army Veteran. “They have truly earned this privilege.”

For some returning veterans, it has been a long time since they were on a military installation or in a commissary or military exchange, said Army officials, but they added each of these new patrons has contributed to the military community, either through a service-related sacrifice, or caring for a veteran with a service-connected disability.

“This is great news and long overdue,” said Michael Dukes, a newly eligible veteran for post retail privileges and a former staff sergeant. “I think this is the honorable thing to do for those who served their country in uniform.”

Veterans and caregivers will also be authorized to use Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (DFMWR) retail activities like golf courses, bowling centers, recreational lodging facilities, recreational vehicle campgrounds and other DFMWR Category C activities.

“Primary Family caregivers of veterans with service-connected disabilities perform a noble and necessary service for veterans and ought to be recognized for their important role and relationship to these veterans,” officials stated.

The Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers is currently the only formalized VA caregiver program where assessed, approved and designated caregivers can be positively tracked and identified in VA databases, so initial caregiver access is limited to those enrolled in this program, sanctioned under Section 1065 of Title 10, United States Code.

Veteran health identification card Veterans eligible solely under this act should have their Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC) from the VA, and present it to gain entry to DOD and Coast Guard installations, officials said.

The VHIC must display the veteran’s eligibility status, whether it be Purple Heart recipient, former POW, or a service-connected disability.

If a newly eligible veteran is unable to obtain their VHIC, the DOD will temporarily accept the VA Health Eligibility Center Form H623A, indicating placement in Priority Group 8E, paired with an acceptable credential, like a driver’s license or a U.S. passport, until DOD and the VA identify a scannable, secure credential for this small group of veterans.

Before Jan. 1, 2020, only uniformed service members, their dependents, retirees, veterans who were 100-percent disabled and Medal of Honor recipients could take advantage of DFMWR activities.

Previously eligible individuals should continue to use their DOD identification cards for installation and facilities access, officials said.

Temporary lodging facilities on installations will also be available on a space-available basis to the new veterans. Installation commanders are also authorized to grant access to other post activities, such as skills development and outdoor recreation programs, when space is available and the activities are primarily self-funded.

While not all veterans are now eligible for privileges on military installations, all honorably discharged veterans are eligible for online military exchange shopping through the Veterans Online Shopping Benefit.

Visit https://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/vhic for information regarding eligibility for the VHIC and the application process.

The Fort Carson Main Exchange, 6110 Martinez St., is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. except Sundays when it is open from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Call 576-4141 for more information. The Fort Carson Commissary, 1551 Prussman Blvd. #1800, is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. except Sundays when it is open 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 503-8300 for more information.

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