Merced veterans have a new form of identification, one that comes with several benefits.
The Merced County Veterans Services Office introduced the Vet ID cards on Thursday. The cards read “United States Armed Forces Veteran,” and include a photo along with the branch of service.
According to veterans services officer Jim Kanabay, the office’s purpose is to facilitate the benefits available for veterans. The only thing that was missing, due to lack of funding, were the Vet ID cards.
He explained that prior to this identification card, only active military personnel, those retired for more than 20 years and those registered in the Veterans Affairs health care program were issued a photo identification.
But what if you were a five-year vet and were not registered in the VA health care system? “Then you were in the middle. You had no photo identification (to prove you were a vet), so this fills in the gap,” Kanabay said.
The Veteran Services Office is working with the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce in creating a list of merchants in town that will offer discounts to veterans with the new ID card, he said.
The amount of the discount is up to the merchant, but some large national chain stores give discounts to veterans on certain patriotic holidays, Kanabay said.
The discount can also benefit merchants, he said, as it can create more traffic.
Many low-income or homeless veterans have no other form of identification, Kanabay added, so the free Vet ID can help them.
During Thursday’s Vet ID launch, three Merced County residents were the first to receive their identification cards. One of the three was District 2 Supervisor Hub Walsh, who served in the Army for two years in the 1970s.
“The hope is that not only will veterans get the benefits that come with the card, but they will also learn more about the services and opportunities available for them, many of which people may not be aware of,” Walsh said.
Kanabay estimates 14,000 to 20,000 veterans can benefit from having the ID card.
“We are starting to see a growth in the number of people moving back to Merced County after completing their service,” he said. “This is just one way for us to help them deal with the economic challenges and general challenges in transitioning back to civilian life.”
Kanabay said veterans from Mariposa County can request a Vet ID card.
The identification cards are available at the Veterans Services Office, 3376 N. Highway 59, Suite D, where county officials will verify information before issuing the cards.
Kanabay recommends making an appointment by calling the Veterans Services Office at (209) 385-7588.
Sun-Star staff writer Ana B. Ibarra can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or aibarra @mercedsunstar.com.