Fort Bliss access control points and lines at some on-post retail locations could be longer the first few weeks of the new year as part of a new policy implementation.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security are expanding commissary, Exchange, and certain Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation retail privileges to veterans who are Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, those with service-connected disabilities, and individuals approved and designated as primary family caretakers of eligible veterans.
The change is part of the the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed into law in August.
To access their new privileges, Fort Bliss Military Personnel Division Chief Amy Rodick said eligible veterans must obtain a Veterans Health Identification Card from the Veterans Administration. The VHIC must display the veteran’s eligibility status as Purple Heart, former POW, or service connected.
“They can apply for the VHIC online, or by calling, 1-877-222-VETS,” she said. “The Fort Bliss ID card office does not issue these ID cards. It is through the VA, not the installation.”
Eligible veterans can also visit the El Paso VA Health Care System main campus to initiate the VHIC process. Current card holders do not need to obtain a new VHIC unless their card was issued prior to 2016, according to El Paso VA Public Affairs Officer Ginette Bocanegra.
She said if veterans have an older version of the card, they can update their information in the VA system on a walk-in basis at the El Paso VA main medical center located at 5001 North Piedras St., Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
“The cards are printed in Saint Louis, Missouri and mailed to the veteran’s home within three to four weeks,” Bocanegra said.
The VHIC can not be used to gain access to the installation upon first use. Before the veteran can visit participating facilities, they must first register their card at one of the Fort Bliss Visitor Control Centers.
In addition to the VHIC, veterans who drive will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license and proof of insurance, as well as be able to pass a basic, on-the-spot background check. Additionally, designated primary family caregivers must present an eligibility letter from the VA’s Office of Community Care.
If an eligible veteran is not eligible to obtain a VHIC, the DoD will temporarily accept the VA Health Eligibility Center Form H623A, indicating placement in Priority Group 8E, paired with an acceptable credential, such as a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or a U.S. passport, until the DoD and the VA identify a scannable, secure acceptable credential. These documents should be taken to the Fort Bliss VCC upon first use.
Veterans eligible solely under this act, who are not enrolled in VA health care, or who are enrolled in VA health care, but do not possess a VHIC will not have access to DoD or Coast Guard installations for in-person commissary, Exchange, and FMWR retail privileges.
Not all FMWR facilities are included with the new eligibility, only those classified as self-sustaining, or category C, activities, which do not rely on government appropriations to operate will be available; participating Fort Bliss facilities are listed below.
Only the eligible veterans and designated caregivers will have access to the privileges at participating facilities. Privileges do not extend to the veteran’s family members, unless the family member is designated as the primary family caregiver of the eligible veteran under the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers.
Participating Fort Bliss facilities include:
All Exchange facilities
Fort Bliss Commissary
Centennial Banquet and Conference Center
Desert Strike Lanes Bowling Center
Funky Rooster Coffee
Java Cafe Express
Rod and Gun Club
RV Storage Office
Underwood Golf Complex, Pro Shop and The Golden Tee Restaurant
Fort Bliss Garrison Commander Col. Stuart James said the first few days after launching such a complex effort could be challenging for some until all of the bugs are worked out of the process, but he is excited about the eligibility expansion.
“Team Bliss is ready to welcome back this portion of our veteran community,” he said. “They earned these privileges with their service and sacrifice, and it is our duty to ensure they are able to smoothly access the installation and show them why we offer the best quality-of-life program in the DoD.”