The John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 expanded veteran eligibility for shopping at military exchanges and commissaries as of Jan. 1.
Newly eligible Department of Veterans Affairs service-connected disabled veterans, Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war and primary veteran caregivers can utilize these benefits at Ramstein Air Base thanks to the joint efforts of Army and 86th Airlift Wing personnel.
The process for taking advantage of the new shopping benefits is unique in the Kaiserslautern Military Community because of international agreements and host-nation laws.
The 86th Mission Support Group and 86th Security Forces Squadron coordinated efforts with other agencies to ensure eligible veterans could take advantage of expanded benefits.
“Multiple man-hours were spent by all parties involved to come to a solid resolution,” said Michael R. Swanson, 86th SFS plans and programs director. “The 86th SFS in coordination with the U.S. Army in Europe Installation Access Management Office, USAREUR and U.S. Air Forces in Europe judge advocates, German Customs Office and the Retiree Affairs Office sifted through the new requirements to determine how the changes would affect those eligible personnel residing in Germany.”
The first step is to acquire a Veterans Health Identification Card, not to be confused with a Veterans ID Card, by enrolling in the VA healthcare system. To enroll, veterans can complete an application over the phone by calling 877-222-VETS Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, online at www.va.gov/healthbenefits/enroll or in-person at a VA medical facility.
Once enrollment is verified, the member will need to go to a VA medical facility, with a valid passport, and have their photo taken for their VHIC. Primary veteran caregivers will need an eligibility letter, rather than a VHIC, from the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Community Care.
The next step is gaining base access by securing an Installation Access Control System installation pass from the IACS Office at Pulaski Barracks.
“Currently, due to technical constraints, only the U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz Installation Access Control Office on Pulaski is able to issue these passes for the KMC,” Swanson said. “This will change later in 2020, when a new access control system is installed throughout the KMC enabling Ramstein to also issue the passes.”
Once veterans have secured base access, they will need to get a Pink Card to account for German taxes and import fees on any purchased items. This card is retrieved by getting an AE Form 550-175K for status verification from the U.S. Customs Office and taking the issued form to the local German customs office. Veterans will need a valid passport, valid residence permit, if they are a residing or ordinary resident in Germany, and a VHIC.
With the Pink Card and IACS installation pass, Veterans will be able to get on base and enjoy the shopping benefits of the Military Exchange, commissary and certain Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs.
The Retiree Activities Office said it is excited about the expansion of veteran benefits and potential to see more military retirees enjoying Ramstein’s facilities. They are honored to be a resource for veterans who remain in the KMC.