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New veteran groups gain access to military bases, but find some aren’t welcomed with them

As of Jan. 1, military base privileges, such as at Naval Station Newport, were expanded to include veterans who are Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners-of-war and those who have any service-connected disabilities, according to information from the U.S. Army website. [DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO/TNS)

The Vietnam War veteran said he wasn’t angry when his wife was denied access to Naval Station Newport in mid-January, he was just confused.

Michael J. Piazza and his wife, Marsha, who live in Cumberland, had planned on shopping together, but instead drove home when they were told Michael could enter the base, just not with his wife, who was offered a seat if she chose to wait, Piazza told The Daily News on Tuesday.

When he and his wife first stopped at the Pass and ID office to gain entry, “they were helpful,” Piazza said. “They just stopped [her] there.” Piazza said the man he spoke to didn’t offer a specific reason for her denial, “other than to say he was following the rules.”

As of Jan. 1, military base privileges were expanded to include veterans who are Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners-of-war and those who have any service-connected disabilities, according to information from the U.S. Army website. Piazza, a Purple Heart recipient, is one of about four million veterans who now qualify.

The newly-eligible veterans (and their qualified caregivers, who must be assessed, approved and designated under the Department of Veterans Affairs Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers) as of New Year’s Day were welcomed to commissaries, exchanges and authorized MWR (morale, welfare and recreation) facilities — like bowling alleys — on military installations.

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But there were snags with the rollout of Section 1065 of Title 10, United States Code.

“As with any major initiative rollout across five military services across hundreds of installations, granting access to millions of new eligible users is challenging,” according to a Jan. 31 post on “VAntage Point,” the official blog of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “[The U.S. Department of Defense] and the military services are working out the bugs and refining communications to continue to welcome newly eligible categories of Veterans and caregivers to commissary, exchange, and authorized MWR facilities.”

“It’s unclear,” Piazza said Wednesday of the new policy. Before Piazza and his wife visited the base, it was his understanding that Marsha would be allowed to accompany him but with certain limitations. In an email to a reporter Wednesday, he referenced a post on “VAntage Point” titled “DoD answers top 10 questions on expanded commissary, exchange, MWR Access.”

The post says newly eligible veterans and caregivers can bring guests to the installations and facilities and “[g]uests will be subject to installation access procedures…and must remain with the eligible Veteran or caregiver at all times when they are on the installation. Also, guests cannot make any purchases in commissary or exchange stores.”

A January fact sheet from the Department of Defense (which the department says it will continue to update) says “[f]amily members of these eligible veterans and caregivers who are not eligible for these privileges in their own right are not authorized privileges.”

Referencing military installations, a Jan. 31 post on “VAntage Point” says: “In general, newly eligible Veterans with an eligible [Veteran Health Identification Card] cannot escort or vouch for accompanying visitors that cannot establish their own identity and fitness for installation access. Once the accompanying visitor completes the required checks at the visitor control center, they can accompany the eligible Veteran onto the installation and they can enroll their credential, just as the eligible Veteran, to facilitate future visits with the eligible Veteran. Please understand that while this is the DoD-level policy, conditions vary from installation to installation and visitor access may be restricted as a result. It is best to contact the installation ahead of your visit to find out if accompanying visitors will be authorized.”

Kalen Arreola, deputy public affairs officer with Naval Station Newport, said the military base doesn’t allow “trusted traveler” privileges to newly-eligible veterans, meaning they can’t bring guests onto the base (DoD employees on the base and active duty members, for example, have those privileges).

“You have to balance security with people getting access to the installation,” Arreole said. “I don’t know that it will always be like this…it’s a brand new program [and federal agencies are] working through the kinks…I’m sure there will be more changes and updates in the future.”

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