As with any major initiative rollout across five military services across hundreds of installations, granting access to millions of new eligible users is challenging. This is especially true for the thousands of front-line access control and service providers who are getting acquainted with the new access guidelines and authorized credentials. Do it over a holiday when manning and procedures differ from daily operations, and it invites some opportunities for inconsistency. Throw in a global military situation that puts all U.S. military installations on heightened alert, to further affect access guidelines and procedures?
Welcome to the first few weeks of implementation of Section 1065 of Title 10, United States Code.
The military services appreciate your patience and understanding as they work through the challenges they have encountered so far.
DoD and the military services are working out the bugs and refining communications to continue to welcome newly eligible categories of Veterans and caregivers to commissary, exchange, and authorized MWR facilities.
DoD has provided basic information regarding expanded access through the recently updated fact sheet at http://www.militaryonesource.mil/expanding-access. This fact sheet is not DoD policy, but it does attempt to provide the most accurate known information based on DoD policy. As implementation continues and snags are identified, DoD continues to update and refine the fact sheet content, so check back frequently (and make sure you refresh your browser to access the most current version).
The following are what you have said are the issues you’ve experienced. We’ve provided information to help you manage expectations:
- Firearms. Leave your firearms and any other weapons at home. Firearms are not permitted on military service installations. 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.
- Vehicle operation. 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 onboard the installation. Newly eligible Veterans and caregivers who do not have access to installations through another authorized affiliation, such as DoD civilian or contractor employment, should be prepared to provide the required traffic enforcement documentation at the visitor control center when you initially stop for access vetting. The documents you may be asked to produce may include a state-issued driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance.
- Varying access procedures between installations. While all installations must comply with overarching DoD installation access policy, each military department has the authority to apply additional or unique policies depending on the security factors related to the service or the installation. If you are denied access, or if access control personnel tell you something other than what is contained in the most current version of the expanded access fact sheet, please comply with their direction. As disappointing as it may be for you, these personnel are doing as they have been trained and must act to protect the assets and mission of the installation. They are following orders and procedure, so an individual outside of their chain of command telling them to change what they’ve been trained or directed to do is not an option. Note that threat conditions may affect access by otherwise authorized individuals.
- Scanner won’t read Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC). DoD has learned that some of the eligible VHICs issued by VA (displays PURPLE HEART, FORMER POW, or SERVICE CONNECTED) cannot be read by DoD scanners because the barcode is missing some required data. If you’ve got one of these VHICs, expect installation access personnel to deny your access; please accept that this is an unfortunate circumstance. If the installation allows presentation of another credential to prove identity and will still accept the VHIC as proof of purpose for that visit, you may be authorized access if you have another acceptable credential to present, like a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or a U.S. passport. Not every installation is guaranteed to offer this single access exception. A VHIC that does not scan is not enrollable for recurring access, so Veterans who possess them will have to stop at the visitor control center each time they visit an installation and may not be permitted installation access every time. Installation access personnel cannot bend the rules for you, they are following procedure and their job is to protect installation assets and the mission. If you’ve got one of these VHICs that DoD is not able to scan, please take your card to a VA medical center to correct the issue by requesting a new one from the Enrollment and Eligibility Office. A new card will be mailed to you in about two weeks.
- VHIC versions. There seems to be some confusion about the different versions of VHICs and which are acceptable. The oldest version of the VHIC has a vertical barcode along the short right side of the card and is not acceptable for installation access. There are two versions of the current VHIC that feature the barcode horizontally along the bottom of the card, both of which are acceptable for installation access as long as the card also displays PURPLE HEART, FORMER POW, or SERVICE CONNECTED below the photo. The barcode on the current versions of the VHIC must be readable by installation access scanners in order to validate identity and purpose for the Veteran’s visit to the installation. If the card cannot be read by installation access scanners, there is no way to validate that the card is not fraudulent, so if you’ve got an unscannable card, it’s best to get it corrected through a VA medical center. You’d be surprised how many people try to fraudulently access installations, so installation access personnel are always on high alert for things that seem out of the ordinary. You may request a new VHIC from the Enrollment and Eligibility Office. A new card will be mailed to you in about two weeks.
Accompanying visitors (because “guest” means something specific in military security-speak)
It’s probably best to call ahead to find out the local policy for visitors accompanying Veterans or caregivers who are eligible for access under Section 1065.
- Installations. The information DoD published about accompanying visitors was the general DoD-level policy, but it only applied to authorized VHIC holders. DoD apologizes for not making that clear from the beginning. In general, newly eligible Veterans with an eligible VHIC cannot escort or vouch for accompanying visitors that cannot establish their own identity and fitness for installation access. Once the accompanying visitor completes the required checks at the visitor control center, they can accompany the eligible Veteran onto the installation and they can enroll their credential, just as the eligible Veteran, to facilitate future visits with the eligible Veteran. Please understand that while this is the DoD-level policy, conditions vary from installation to installation and visitor access may be restricted as a result. It is best to contact the installation ahead of your visit to find out if accompanying visitors will be authorized. Unfortunately, DoD policy does not currently authorize other individuals authorized to access DoD installations with other-than DoD-issued credentials to bring accompanying visitors. DoD is actively pursuing a policy change that will allow newly-eligible Veterans with a VA Health Eligibility Center Form H623A or Primary Family Caregivers with an eligibility letter from the VA Office of Community Care to also bring visitors who can establish identity and fitness to enter the installation.
- Retail Facilities. The information DoD published about guests is the DoD-level policy. The military departments and installation commanders have the authority to apply more restrictive policy than the DoD-level policy. If a retail organization’s guest policy restricts guest access, then the restricted access policy applies. For example, only authorized shoppers are allowed into the commissary store at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico. Not allowing guests into the store here is the same for all authorized shoppers. Newly eligible Veterans and Primary Family Caregivers are not being singled out.
Credentials when individuals have both an authorized VA and DoD affiliation
- Uniformed services retirees, Medal of Honor recipients, Veterans with 100% service-connected disability ratings, or Veterans with 100% unemployability due to a service-connected conditions. If you are a newly eligible Veteran or Primary Family Caregiver and also have eligibility through one of these DoD affiliations, you should obtain and use the DoD identification card for installation and privilege access. This affiliation also makes you eligible for broader DoD benefits that the VA affiliation does not.
- Other individuals with DoD-issued credentials. If you are a newly eligible Veteran or Primary Family Caregiver and also have a DoD-issued credential, you can use the DoD-issued credential for access to whatever you are entitled to access through your DoD affiliation. For example, a DoD civilian employee assigned to an installation on a transportation agreement in a U.S. territory or possession is authorized installation, commissary, exchange, and MWR access with their DoD-issued credential, so they should use the DoD-issued credential for access, even if they have an authorized VA-issued credential through their authorized VA affiliation. However, a DoD civilian employee assigned in the United States may use their DoD-issued credential for installation and MWR access, but they will have to use the authorized VA-issued credential to shop the commissary and exchange because a DoD-issued civilian employee credential is not valid for commissary or exchange access in the United States.
Access to the online exchanges was minimally affected by expanded patronage, because newly eligible Veterans already have had access since Nov. 11, 2017, through the Veterans Online Shopping Benefit.
- AmericanForcesTravel.com. Because American Forces Travel was a new privilege as of Jan. 1, 2020, authentication data for all newly eligible users had to be coded and pushed to the authenticating agency. That data transfer did not go as smoothly or as quickly as expected due to hundreds of thousands of records with incomplete coding data. Progress is being made daily to correct these records, but it takes time. Your patience and understanding is appreciated while the records are being corrected. There is no way to contact individual users when their records are corrected, so you’ll just need to continue to access the site. If you are still getting denied access, refresh your browser. If that doesn’t work, give it a few more days and try again.
- Commissaries.com. The same coding and data transfer issues affected the commissary website. Again, please refresh your browser if you are still not able to create an account and if that doesn’t work, please try again in a few days. Accessing commissaries.com will allow you to see the sales flyers with pricing. Of course, online authentication issues does not prevent you from accessing the commissary in person, provided you bring all of the necessary documentation for accessing the installation and facility, so swing on by and check out the deals first hand.
- My.Commissaries.com. If you’re trying to set up an account at My.Commissaries.com to manage your rewards card, download coupons, or order from a Click2Go-enabled store, you’ll have to wait until early spring. This portal requires additional programming to interface with the online authentication and couldn’t begin until the user coding was completed. You’ll know when it is ready for you when they remove the message that explains it is not currently available to you from the login screen.
- Recreation and other lodging reservation systems. While not all of the military service lodging programs have updated their online reservation systems yet, Navy Lodge has. Newly eligible Veterans and Primary Family Caregivers can book at https://www.navy-lodge.com.
- Clarification of “on the same basis as a member of the armed forces entitled to retired or retainer pay.” Section 1065 provides commissary, exchange, and MWR retail facility access on the same basis as the members of the armed forces who are entitled to retired and retainer pay, but it does not authorize access to installations on the same basis, access for family members on the same basis, or access to any other facilities or services on installations on the same basis. To facilitate access to the authorized facilities on installations, DoD had to prescribe procedures for installation access, to include identifying the acceptable VA-issued credentials for individuals in these new categories of authorized Veterans and caregivers. DoD has also authorized access to temporary duty and permanent change of station lodging facilities on a space available basis, which is in addition to the access prescribed in Section 1065. While family members are not given access in their own right, DoD has clarified that the newly eligible Veterans and Primary Family Caregivers may have visitors accompany them onto installations and into facilities (subject to the limitations mentioned earlier). DoD has also been very clear that this access in overseas foreign countries is subject to applicable host-nation laws and applicable international agreements, like status of forces agreements. Neither the DoD nor the U.S. Government has the authority to unilaterally change these laws or agreements.
- Installation commander authority to restrict access. Installation commanders have the authority to restrict access when they determine it is in the best interest of the installation and the mission. That includes access to specific facilities, certain hours of operation, or limits on quantities of products. They can also revoke access when abuse and unauthorized activity is discovered, such as making purchases for other-than personal use.
- Alcohol and tobacco products. Yes, newly eligible Veterans and Primary Family Caregivers are authorized to purchase alcohol and tobacco products.
- List of recreation lodging and RV/campground locations. DoD is in the process of compiling and updating such consolidated lists and expects them to be available in the spring of 2020. In the meantime, find the current list of Marine Corps recreational lodging locations at https://www.usmc-mccs.org/services/lodging/recreation-lodging/
- Special interest clubs. If operated as revenue-generating MWR activities, then newly eligible Veterans and Primary Family Caregivers should be allowed access to special interest clubs like flying clubs, rod and gun clubs, riding stables, etc. If you try to access a special interest club and are turned away, it’s probably a private club, not an MWR activity.