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Access To Joint Base San Antonio Expands To Include More Vets, Caregivers

Kevin Robinson / Defense Commissary Agency
The frozen food aisle at the Naval Submarine Base New London Commissary, Conn.

Starting Jan. 1, Joint Base San Antonio will allow more people through its gates to access commissaries and exchanges, in addition to facilities like golf courses, clubs and movie theaters. 

Under a 2018 law, veterans with a service-connected disability rating between 0 and 90%, former prisoners of war, Purple Heart recipients and certain veteran caregivers are newly-eligible for those privileges.

Previously, only veterans with a 100 percent disability rating — and their families — could get on base for the purposes of shopping and recreation. 

Commissaries sell groceries at a discount, while exchanges carry a wide range of items like home goods, electronics and furniture.

Getting On Base: Identification Requirements

In order to register for base access, veterans must present a Veteran Health Identification Card issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

“They can bring it to any one of the installations, except for Camp Bullis,” said Tim Heintzelman of JBSA’s 502d Security Forces Group. “At the visitor control center, they bring the VHIC card in with them. Then they can get registered for base access.”

Instructions about how to apply for a VHIC card are available here

Credit Carson Frame | Texas Public Radio
A sample Veteran Health Identification card, issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Primary veteran caregivers must present an eligibility letter from the Veterans Administration in order to gain access to JBSA. Eligibility letters will be mailed to enrolled caregivers from the VA’s Office of Community Care.

Gate protocols will otherwise remain the same. Before entry, newly-eligible individuals must be proofed and vetted to ensure they don’t pose a threat to the base. When they show up with a VHIC card or other identification, they will be scanned into the Defense Biometric Identification System (DBIS), which runs a criminal background check.

For more specific information about identification requirements and eligibility, see below.

A Busy Start

With the large veteran population in San Antonio, JBSA officials expect an influx of personnel wanting to register for base access in the first weeks of the new year. 

Heintzelman said people should expect delays outside JBSA as more personnel and their caregivers try to get on base. 

“At the gates there will be slowdowns — in the mornings especially,” he explained. “We ask that people who are newly eligible and looking to get registered to come after 8:30 a.m... But our visitor control centers and our parking lots are limited. We just ask for patience.”

According to data provided by the South Texas Veterans Healthcare System, more than 60,000 veterans in Bexar County receive disability compensation. Of those, some 50,000 will become eligible for JBSA access under the new law. 

Carson Frame can be reached at Carson@TPR.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame.

Carson Frame was Texas Public Radio's military and veterans' issues reporter from July 2017 until March 2024.