latimes.com/topic/mc-veterans-discount-cards-watchdog-20121110,0,138097.column

latimes.com

Helping veterans save a buck

Some counties, and soon the state, issue ID cards for veterans to claim discounts

Paul Muschick

The Watchdog

5:58 PM PST, November 10, 2012

Advertisement

Many restaurants, stores and other businesses will be offering Veterans Day discounts Sunday and Monday to current and former members of our armed forces.

To cash in, you may have to prove you served, which can be a problem for some veterans. They don't all have official government military photo identification anymore, and carrying around discharge papers isn't practical.

Some county governments in our region are trying to fill that void by not only providing free photo ID confirming a veteran's status, but also by lining up local businesses that will offer discounts to cardholders year-round. That's not a universal solution, though, because some counties, including Lehigh and Northampton, don't offer the service.

A statewide solution is in the works, though it won't be implemented immediately. Lawmakers passed legislation this year authorizing the state Department of Transportation to place a veterans designation on driver's licenses.

Gov. Tom Corbett already has signed the legislation, House Bill 2428. A public ceremony to celebrate passage of the law and others designed to assist veterans and active military members is planned for Monday at Fort Indiantown Gap.

William Winkler, a Navy veteran from Upper Saucon Township, brought the issue to my attention this year. He said there is a need for veterans to have some sort of ID verifying their status and he questioned why other counties make cards but Lehigh County doesn't.

Winkler told me he contacted county officials, but received only "a typical government lackadaisical lack of any interest." He said a letter to the commissioners went unanswered.

Tom Dye, Lehigh's veterans affairs director, told me the county has chosen not to follow the lead of nearby counties for several reasons. He said the cards are not official government identification and that the discount programs they help people tap can be manipulated, so the county chose to steer clear of the issue.

Plus, he said, the county is aware of the state initiative and has chosen to focus on providing other services with its limited resources.

"Our job's to get people veterans benefits, not issue ID cards," Dye said.

Northampton County officials told me they considered it, but it wasn't an immediate priority amid a change in veterans directors and now that the state has taken the lead. Carbon County doesn't do it either and will defer to the state's program, veterans affairs Director Henry Desrosiers said.

Active armed forces members have photo IDs. Veterans get them if they are receiving medical benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or if they served until retirement. But someone who didn't serve until retirement and isn't getting benefits might not have an ID, which is why some counties are making cards.

Berks, Bucks and Montgomery counties started providing the free service for their residents within the past year. Monroe County plans to start soon, though its cards won't have photos.

Bucks County has issued about 5,500 ID cards and created a network of about 200 businesses that offer discounts to cardholders, military affairs Director Dan Fraley said. The cards are limited to county residents and are meant to be used only for the discount program, which includes merchants ranging from dry cleaners to funeral homes to car dealers.

"It's really taken off," he said. "With the economy being a little sluggish the way it is, it's really nice that these businesses are offering the discounts."

Montgomery County has issued about 2,600 ID cards and has recruited about 170 businesses to honor the cards, Recorder of Deeds Nancy Becker said. The county funds the program through fees collected for filing documents, and it paid for start-up costs with a $5,000 grant from American Heritage Credit Union, she said.

"It's really not costing tax dollars," Becker said.

She said the program is geared to county residents, but the county hasn't turned away veterans from other counties who have requested IDs.

Under House Bill 2428, all veterans can have their status noted on their driver's licenses when their licenses are up for renewal. The program should start in 12 to 18 months.

State Rep. Jeff Pyle, a Republican representing Armstrong and Indiana counties, told me he wrote the bill after hearing from a veteran who tried to claim a store discount but didn't have proper ID and his large Vietnam War tattoo wouldn't suffice.

"We're hoping these guys can use this to suck up some of the gravy," Pyle said. "Why shouldn't the guy be allowed to have a free cookie or whatever? He already paid the toll."

As with the county programs, veterans will have to provide PennDOT with proof of their service. The program is projected to cost $660,000 to set up, and then $40,000 annually. Veterans will not have to pay to get a veterans designation added to their license, though they will have to pay the normal license renewal fee.

If you're a veteran who doesn't have ID, that doesn't mean you can't get the Veterans Day discount you deserve at participating businesses Sunday and Monday. Not all of them require photo identification. Some may accept your discharge papers or even a photo of you in uniform, according to the terms of some offers that I reviewed. Some may just take your word.

You can find a list of businesses offering discounts on my blog at blogs.mcall.com/watchdog. Verify the offers before you go, just to be sure.

The Watchdog is published Thursdays and Sundays. Contact me by email at watchdog@mcall.com, by phone at 610-841-2364 (ADOG), by fax at 610-820-6693, or by mail at The Morning Call, 101 N. Sixth St., Allentown, PA, 18101. Follow me on Twitter at mcwatchdog and on Facebook at Morning Call Watchdog.

TO GET VETERANS ID

Berks County: 610-478-3380

Bucks County: 215-348-6209

Montgomery County: 610-278-3294