Transitioning from active duty to civilian life can be a daunting task for members of the military. One thing that often comes as a surprise is finding out that a Defense Department military identification card is no longer valid, and that some of the benefits tied to the cards suddenly stop working.

Active duty service members receive a standard identification card known as the Common Access Card, or CAC. The smart card is about the size of a credit card and is the standard identification for active duty uniformed service personnel as well as Selected Reserve, active DOD civilian employees and eligible military contractors.

Besides serving as an ID, the card is also used to access buildings and controlled spaces, and it provides access to DOD computer networks and systems. And even after separation or retirement, some of the unique benefits troops receive while in uniform are still accessible in civilian life. That includes TSA PreCheck, free entry to national parks and myriad other discount programs.

TSA PreCheck allows travelers who have passed a background check to have their travel security screenings expedited — privileges like quicker lines and keeping your shoes, belts and jackets on at airport checks.

“Many military retirees find out the hard way that their DOD ID number no longer works for their TSA PreCheck benefit because they no longer have a current background check with the military,” said Mark Wojciechowski, a veteran and Transportation Security Administration spokesman. “We want to spread the word and make it easy for our service members and veterans to enjoy TSA PreCheck so they can enjoy their travel plans.”

How to get a USID card

When someone retires, transitions into a non-military career or is medically disabled, their security clearance associated with their CAC expires. They need to reapply for a type of DOD ID called the Next Generation USID card.

USID cards may be used to access the benefits printed on the card — medical, when eligible; commissaries and exchanges; and various quality-of-life services known as morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) benefits. In the case of some benefits like TSA PreCheck, non-active veterans have to apply and pay for the service once their CAC card expires.

Robert Eves, a program analyst for identity and ID card policy at the Defense Manpower Data Center, suggests any service member who has a continuing affiliation with the DOD make an appointment at a DOD ID Card office to have their card reissued. He also suggests spending some time online to learn what’s needed for a smooth experience.

“The DOD ID Card Reference Center online provides valuable information on DOD ID cards, eligibility criteria, how to get and manage an ID card, documentation required for ID card issuance, DOD ID Card policy and reference materials,” Eves said.

Eves broke down the various types of ID cards depending on individual circumstances:

Retirees: Service members who retire from active duty are eligible for a retiree USID card from their retirement date until the day before their 65th birthday, when they must decide whether to enroll in Medicare Part B. Following their 65th birthday, they receive a USID card with an indefinite expiration date.

Reserve retirees: Service members who retire from the reserves with enough creditable service to receive retired pay and medical benefits at age 60 are eligible for a Reserve Retired USID card with commissary, exchange and MWR benefits only. Upon reaching their 60th birthday, they are eligible for a retiree USID card issued through the day before their 65th birthday, at which point they must make their Medicare Part B decision. Following their 65th birthday, they receive a retiree USID card with an indefinite expiration date.

Former members: Service members with enough creditable service to receive retired pay and medical benefits at age 60, but who elect to separate from the service and maintain no military affiliation, are eligible for a former member USID card with commissary, exchange and MWR benefits only. Upon reaching their 60th birthday, they are eligible for a former member USID card with medical benefits through the day before their 65th birthday, when they must choose whether to join Medicare Part B. Following their 65th birthday, they can receive a former member USID card with an indefinite expiration date.

100% Disabled American Veterans (DAV): Service members who, as a result of a service-connected disability, have been rated 100% disabled, 100% unemployable or permanently and totally disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs, are eligible for a 100% DAV USID card with commissary, exchange and MWR benefits only. The VA provides medical benefits for this population.

Reservists: Service members who transition from active duty to the reserve are eligible for a reserve USID card with commissary, exchange and MWR benefits only through the expiration date of their obligated service.

Troops who separate from the service, are not eligible for retired pay or benefits, and do not maintain an affiliation with the military, are not eligible for an USID card.

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