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Commissary Benefits Expand to Veteran Community: See If You’re Eligible

Commissary Benefits for Veterans

In 2019, the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act expanded Commissary benefits to veterans meeting certain eligibility criteria.

Previously, Commissary benefits were only open to active duty service members, their dependents, retirees, and a select few others in restricted categories. Things have changed, and DeCA is having a hard time getting the word out.

The Commissary Benefits

The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) maintains the Commissary program, which allows patrons to purchase grocery and household items tax-free. They do, however, levy a 5% surcharge which goes to the maintenance and building of new commissaries.

The potential savings throughout any given year can add up quickly when compared to shopping at other establishments. The Commissaries, DeCA says, can save almost 24% of a family’s food budget each year.

The 2019 legislation expanded the authorized customer base, likely in an attempt to bring in more revenue. As it stands now, the newest patrons authorized to shop at Commissaries around the world include:

  • Veterans with service-connected disabilities
  • Purple Heart recipients
  • Veterans who are former Prisoners of War
  • Designated caregivers of eligible veterans

The Defense Commissary Agency

Headquartered at Fort Lee, Virginia, DeCA manages an army of facilities that are spread all over the world. The agency employs over 13,000 people at its 236 stores that operate in 13 countries. Of these employees, over 32% are military spouses.

In addition to the savings at the register, DeCA has other initiatives aimed at improving wellness and battling food insecurity.

One of these initiatives includes dietician-approved meal plans and recipes that are posted on the Commissary website. They are even broken down into weekly shopping lists and offer an entire month’s worth of family dinner meals.

Another DeCA initiative is called a “dietician-approved fueling station” program. This program established stations at 174 commissaires in 2021, and they provide balanced and healthy meals that are prepackaged. Their purpose is to combat the fast-food diet consumed everyday by service members and their families.

Accessing the Commissary Without an DoD ID

So, most commissaries are located on military installations. Moreover, most veterans lose their DoD issued ID cards when they leave the service, which can make accessing the commissary challenging in some places.

As reported by the American Legion, the current solution is the Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC), which is issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Veterans with service connected disabilities, Purple Heart recipients, or former POWs, must have a VHIC to access the Commissary. Make sure that it carries the appropriate designation (POW, Purple Heart, etc).

In order to get a VHIC, veterans will need to enroll in VA health care. The VHIC is your proof of enrollment in VA care, and you won’t get one unless you register. Believe it or not, many veterans do not know they can and should enroll in VA health care.

I retired in 2014 with a service-connected disability, but I didn’t enroll in VA health care until late 2018. I honestly thought it was automatic. So, if you fall into any of those categories, then I encourage you to get your VHIC by enrolling in VA care.

RELATED: VA Enrollment May Become Automatic

Closing Thoughts

I was a military brat growing up, and I joined the service as soon as I finished high school. I have tons of memories from the commissaries and PXs of my youth.

It is great to see that the equal-access legislation was approved, and I definitely agree that our disabled veterans deserve access to these on-base benefits.

I am also an advocate for VA health care for all veterans. Sure, it’s not Johns Hopkins quality, but it’s lifetime medical care for the issues and injuries you sustained while serving. And with health care costs being what they are these days, why would anyone turn down the medical care they’ve earned?

I encourage all veterans: take advantage of the benefits that are available to you! Whether it’s health care, shopping, education, or anything. You deserve to access any and every benefit available.

 

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About the author

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Robert Haynes is a retired Army infantryman who has a squad of kids and is married to an active duty Soldier. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, who spent his last few years in the Army as a Drill Sergeant. He is now a full-time dad, freelance writer, and out-of-work comedian.