U.S. military bases will open commissaries and other services to some veterans who previously didn't have access.
The new policy will take effect Wednesday at Tinker Air Force Base and other military installations across the country.
New customers will be veterans who have service-connected disabilities, received the Purple Heart or are former prisoners of war. Under the new rule, first approved by Congress in 2018, they are now able to access the on-base commissary, military service exchange, golf courses, bowling centers, recreational lodging, RV campgrounds, movie theaters and other recreational services.
It applies to veterans from any U.S. military branch of service.
Lt. Col. Tyrell Mayfield with Tinker's security forces squadron said anyone arriving at the base for the first time to take advantage of these privileges must first stop at the visitor control center. While there, the veteran or their caregiver will register necessary information to proceed.
"Caretakers don't qualify for access on their own. They must be in the presence of the veteran who has the Veterans Health Identification Card, and those individuals also will need to present themselves here at the visitor control center so we can do a background check on them as well," Mayfield said.
Each base could have their own security procedures, so shopping at separate bases will require separate registrations.
The Department of Defense expects 4.1 million new patrons to begin visiting bases across the country, but there is no estimate for how many people will visit Tinker's retail options for the first time.
"There are several thousand veterans in the greater Oklahoma City area who have become eligible for it," Mayfield said.
Many of those veterans already have base access through other means, like if they are civilian employees, but that access doesn't extend to the tax-free commissary.
Not everyone who served will receive these privileges. The Department of Defense said its infrastructure cannot handle an influx of more than 15 million additional veterans to these types of facilities without severely limiting its ability to provide the same services to active-duty personnel and their families.
Col. Linda Hoover, commander of the 72nd Mission Support Group said the new policy gives the affected veterans an option to shop at a possibly lower cost because it's tax-free.
"They'll be charged a small service fee as all patrons are, but there's a variety of discounted items that we have at the commissary for them to shop at," said Hoover.
Commissaries are on-base grocery stores that are operated by the Department of Defense. Exchanges are where service members can shop for other goods, including their uniforms. In 2016, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe blocked a pilot program for privatized commissaries.
Who now qualifies?
• Veterans with service-connected disabilities
• Purple Heart recipients
• Medal of Honor recipients
• Former prisoners of war
Where can they go?
• Golf courses, bowling centers, movie theaters, other recreational activities on base