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Here is what you need to know about the new veterans ID card

Tribune-Review - 12/26/2017

Dec. 26--Tens of thousands of veterans have expressed interest in obtaining a new national Veterans Identification Card, intended as convenient proof of their service when they seek military discounts offered by retail and restaurant chains.

The high level of interest apparently was too much for the online application site -- operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs at vets.gov -- and temporarily knocked it offline not long after it was rolled out at the end of November.

Veterans Affairs has made improvements and is "monitoring the system regularly to ensure all veterans can access the application," press secretary Curt Cashour said. The department was processing more than 5,500 completed applications and planned to release a digital version of the free ID card and an app for applying for the card on mobile devices, he said.

The ID cards are finally set to arrive two years after federal law mandated their issuance. The goal is to get a printed card in a veteran's hands within 60 days of application.

While veterans who have them can display a Veterans Affairs medical ID as proof of their service, the new ID card could be handy for those whose service -- for instance, in a National Guard or Reserve unit -- didn't qualify them for medical benefits.

"Proving that you're a veteran can be difficult if you're not enrolled in the (VA) health care system," said Matt Zamosky, director of Veterans Affairs for Westmoreland County.

"In Western Pennsylvania, we do have a pretty strong participation in the National Guard and the reserve," Zamosky said. "Reservists typically are not eligible for a lot of the benefits of veterans who served on active duty.

"Anyone who wears a uniform is a veteran, I think. They're still somebody who put themselves out there and offered to serve their country."

Zamosky said the new ID card is "a pretty good deal for all of the veterans." He noted that between 32,000 and 35,000 veterans live in Westmoreland County -- nearly 10 percent of the population.

For those without VA medical coverage, the new ID card can take the place of an official discharge form.

"That's a paper document that's easily destroyed in a wallet," said Paul Foresman, commander of the state department of the Amvets and second vice commander of the organization's White Valley post in Export.

Though he has a VA medical card and a Pennsylvania driver's license bearing a flag symbol for veterans, Foresman plans to apply for the new national ID card. He's encouraging other veterans to apply for one as well.

"I'm going to apply for it just to see if I get it," he said, noting he prefers to try for himself what he recommends to others.

"It's a good program to have the one card," Foresman said. "There are several different (veterans) cards out there. A lot of veterans have older cards that they have not updated."

With the new program, he said, "Everybody is using a current card."

Having an updated ID card is no guarantee a veteran will receive a discount from a particular vendor on a given day.

While many retailers offer veterans discounts on patriotic holidays, Foresman pointed out some deals may be available only to disabled veterans.

"The government doesn't have any control over what type of ID businesses will accept," Zamosky said.

According to its website, the Lowe's home improvement stores offer a 10 percent military discount year-round to honorably discharged veterans as well as those currently serving in the armed forces -- including members of the Reserve and Guard -- and their immediate families.

Lowe's spokeswoman Megan Lewis said the retail chain accepts both the new national ID card and the VA health card as well as the Pennsylvania license with the veteran's designation and several Department of Defense IDs for military service members. Veterans also can apply for the discount through the company's website, with a third party verifying the applicant's eligibility.

At the Home Depot in Hempfield, a 10 percent military discount applies to active and retired military members and disabled veterans, said an assistant manager who declined to be identified.

She said store management had not yet learned of a company policy regarding the new veterans ID cards, but she noted any form of military ID is accepted for a discount at the store on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Veterans Day.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622, jhimler@tribweb.com or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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(c)2017 Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

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