On Aug. 13, 2018 President Donald J. Trump signed the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 (H.R. 5515). Within the act granted access to military installations and some of the facilities inside the U.S. to veterans who didn’t already have access — if they met certain criteria.
Veterans who were honorably discharged and are Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, have a service connected injury or 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 are eligible to shop at both the Exchange and Commissary and use most of the facilities operated by the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
This law went into effect Jan. 1.
“I think that they’ve earned that right, and it’s great that we’re being able to now transfer that opportunity to them — let them take advantage of all the opportunities on post,” said DFMWR director Tod Scalf. “So, it’s a great opportunity for the post to be supportive of our veterans.”
“Feels like a passion realized after working in this business over 20 years,” said Commissary director Peter Howell. “Our deserving men and women of another segment finally get what they deserved, a benefit desired.”
According to the Purple Heart and Disabled Veteran Equal Access Act of 2018, which was included in H.R. 5515, newly eligible veterans must show a Veteran Health Identification Card that displays “PURPLE HEART”, “FORMER POW” or “SERVICE CONNECTED” below the photo on the front of the card.
This card, along with an acceptable credential like a REAL ID compliant driver’s license or a U.S. Passport can be used at Fort Riley’s Visitor Control Center, outside Henry Gate off of I70, and the veteran will be issued a one year pass for access.
“The key thing is that the veteran should already have the Veterans Health ID,” said Fort Riley Director of Emergency Services Security Branch chief Mark Dombrowski. “If they don’t have one, they should go ahead and get with the VA and get their card and make sure that it’s properly annotated that they are a qualifying veteran. At the Visitor Control Center, we’ll do a background check on them, and as long as they successfully pass, they’ll be issued a one year badge, so that they can have access to MWR, commissary and PX privileges.”
Once the pass has been issued to the veteran, they just present it at any of the access points and can use the facility anytime from 5 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. — as listed on the card.
Fort Riley offers many facilities for the soldiers, family members and retirees. Most of these will be available to veterans — with some exceptions, Warrior Zone, the gyms and the Post Library.
The veterans and caregivers will have access to: SpareTime Interactive Entertainment, The Hobby Studio, Outdoor Adventure Park, Leisure Travel, Animal Shelter, Auto Body Skills Center, both Custer and Eyster Pools and equipment rentals.
“At the Funston Camp we have building 1806 as our equipment check out rentals,” Scalf said. “We have all kinds of equipment from tent equipment to kayaks to tent trailers — it’s all available for rental. Also, up on the hill we have the Outdoor Adventure Travel Center, where you have tickets and travel where you’re being able to rent and do courses outside. We have golf driving range, we have paint ball, we have batting cages, we have a ropes course thats extremely unique, which is rental by group only, but it’s one of the most unique things you’re gonna find to do, especially a group activity. They also have food and beverage operation up there.
“And then you also have our entertainment center called SpareTime,” he added. “It’s a multi-faceted facility with not only bowling lanes, but then you also have batting cages, you have an interactive climbing wall, you have a golf simulator — multitude of family opportunities to come and enjoy including a great food and beverage snack bar.”
There are no fees associated with gaining access, but veterans should know there is a small fee to use debit or credit cards at the Commissary, Howell said.
“This small fee doesn’t erode the savings they will surely find on our shelves,” he said.
Howell said the newly added veterans and family caregivers will have the same rights as the current customers “they just need to come on in and start saving.”
A representative from the Exchange was not available by deadline and it is unknown, outside the Exchange, food courts, service stations and website — shopmyexchange.com — if veterans and caregivers will have access to other Exchange run operations like Clothing and Sales.
Veterans and caregivers will have access to the movie theater on post with weekly movies list found on page 10 of the weekly “1st Infantry Division Post” newspaper.
More information and a list of the top questions can be found online: https://publicaffairs-sme.com/Community/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Expanding-Access-Fact-Sheet-11.12.20192.pdf, or at www.militaryonesource.mil/expanding-access.
Caregivers can call the Caregiver Support Line at 1-855-260-3274.
“Welcome home to a valuable benefit you earned,” Howell said. “Stop by and ask for me, Peter Howell, as I would like to say thank you in person. We are eager to see you and help save you money on your shopping needs.”