By JIM RUNKLE
LOCK HAVEN - The Clinton County Veterans Affairs office and the office of State Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Clinton/Centre counties, have been flooded with telephone calls recently.
Those calling are complaining about changes in a veterans' discount policy at the Lowe's Home Improvement Store on Hogan Boulevard.
The supposed change ignited a small firestorm of criticism for the local Lowe's - but county Veterans Affairs Officer Bill Bechdel said he checked with the local management and it is essentially blameless and the policy change is not actually a change.
Ironically, the criticism arrives at a time when the State of Pennsylvania is making it easier for the Commonwealth's veterans to obtain discounts for purchases by placing veteran status on driver's licenses.
"The local management says it's a corporate decision," Bechdel said. "I've used a discount at Lowe's as recently as Saturday, but another veteran told me his card was rejected the same day."
According to on-line veterans websites, the confusion was sparked by a recent decision by the corporation to clarify already existing policies.
Lowe's will accept an official Veterans Affairs identification card, Bechdel said, but that's only issued in certain circumstances ... to veterans receiving health benefits or military pensions.
In Pennsylvania, there's no fee for obtaining a Veterans Designation added to a state driver's license or identification card, Bechdel said, but some veterans in the region paid for duplicates in order to get the veteran tag put on their cards.
According to the website "www.military.com," policies have not changed, but individual stores are changing their policy.
"The implementation of the policy at the store level has been lax since the discount program began," officials there said. "It has always been a 'military' discount all year round, and a 'veterans' discount several weekends a year. ... (Lowe's) has chosen to define 'military' roughly in line with the qualifications for a DD issued military ID - active duty, National Guard or reserve or dependents, retired military and dependents, and disabled veterans."
In other words, if you meet the eligibility as "military," then you qualify all year round. If you meet the eligibility as "veteran," then you qualify for the discount on the designated weekends.
Many Lowe's stores have been generously giving the "military" discount to "veterans" for several years, but have been gradually trying to return to the clearly stated policy.
In the past, veterans had to carry their DD214 around to prove veteran status or seek a U.S. Government Veterans ID card, which actually for some reason doesn't exist.
The Pennsylvania license designation was supposed to resolve that burdensome requirement.
As for state law, Pennsylvania enacted Act 176 of 2012, which allowed the Department of Transportation to issue, 18 months later, a driver's license or identification card that clearly indicates that the person is a veteran of the United States Armed Forces.
The espoused intention was to have the greater purpose of rapidly identifying veterans to state and local governments for needed special assistance and services. But the most often advantage for the average veteran was to identify him or her to businesses for discounts.
Some website companies have offered to convert a DD Form 214 together with a photo into a "vet card," but these have no official standing.
Businesses have added to the confusion by loosely using the term "veteran" in advertising.
Lowe's Companies, Inc. established a policy in 2010, announcing that its support of the military included an all day, every day 10 percent discount to all military personnel who are active, reserve, retired or disabled veterans and their family members, with a valid, government-issued military ID card.
All other military veterans will receive the discount on the Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day weekends, according to Lowe's. The discount is available on in-stock and special order purchases up to $5,000. Excluded from the discount are sales via Lowes.com, previous sales, and purchases of services or gift cards.
As for discounts elsewhere, it can be a crap shoot for local veterans, who must look through signs at the stores or special sales events in order to determine when and where they might take advantage of discounts.