New policy gives more veterans access to NAS Meridian
By THOMAS KING | The Meridian Star | Published: December 27, 2019
MERIDIAN, Miss. (Tribune News Service) — Naval Air Station Meridian will begin the new year with a policy change that gives more veterans and their caregivers access to the base and privileges.
Starting Jan 2, approved veterans and their care providers will be allowed to apply for authorization to shop on base at both the base commissaries and Navy Exchange stores, as well as, partake in Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs.
These MWR programs include recreational activities such as golf and bowling, auto shop, storage access, entertainment, food and more.
To be eligible, patrons must be either a Purple Heart recipient, former prisoners of war, or a veteran with a service related disability documented by the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a news release from NAS Meridian.
Access for disabled veterans is what’s most impactful here, according to Penny Randall of NAS public affairs.
“This opens things up for a lot more people to access these services,” Randall said. “We’re very excited.”
Veteran Richard Nelson said he is happy about the change.
“I think it’s a great idea for vets to be able to go and buy groceries and go to the Navy Exchange…” Nelson said. “I’m retired so I get to go all the time, but for people who put in 4 to 6 years and became disabled, I think it’s great for them to get to go, too.”
Richard Whitehead, with the Hamasa Shriners in Marion, said he has high hopes for the program.
“You have to go get a temp pass now, even though im a vet there’s a lot you have to do,” Whitehead said. “If they can ease up maybe we can get on base a lot easier.”
Eligible veterans must bring a driver’s license, veterans health I.D. card, proof of insurance and vehicle registration when applying.
The process of being approved includes a background check and takes around 20 minutes and will take more time if multiple people need to be served.
“When they start the process, it will take time,” Randall said. “Just be prepared to have patience and wait, but we will get everyone through.”
Those interested must go to the visitor’s center on the NAS base (red brick building) to begin the process. The visitor center is open from 6 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. It is closed on federal holidays.
Though the increase is welcome, the background checks are intended to keep those on the base safe, according to Capt. Brian Horstman, commanding officer of NAS Meridian.
"I have to stress that all veterans must pass the background check before they obtain access to the installation," Horstman said in a statement. "We continue to focus on our number one priority of ensuring the safety of our people and the security of our installation, at the same time we are dedicated to providing top-notch customer service to our veterans as they come in to process their base access."
Veteran caregivers must have an eligibility letter given to them by the VA Office of Community Care, along with a driver’s license and proof of insurance and vehicle registration.