Military retirees living in Turkey were told they will lose access to U.S. bases in the country this fall – cutting them off from vital services and access to American products.
Air Force Col. Calvin B. Powell, commander of the 39th Air Base Wing at Incirlik Air Base, issued a memo last week warning the small population of retirees of the impending move, which is set to take place on Oct. 1, according to the Military Times.
The restriction of access to base facilities is expected to affect about 121 U.S. military retirees living in Turkey, barring them commissaries stocked with American groceries and from Army and Air Force Exchange Service locations — department stores where members and retirees can get familiar American products.
The retirees will also lose access to the American post office boxes located at on-base post offices, which one retiree said are used for everything from receiving vital medications to casting their ballots in U.S. elections.
“They use the P.O. box to get vital diabetes medicine and things like cast their vote in America,” the retiree, who asked to be identified by his first name Michael, told Fox News Digital. “If they lose access to the base, they lose access to their medicine they get from America.”
Michael, who was medically retired from the military as a result of injuries he sustained while serving in Iraq in 2008, said the Turkish post offices are not dependable enough for vital shipments like medication, estimating that one or two of every three packages sent through the system will not arrive at the intended destination.
The unreliability of the Turkish postal system could also have an impact on their ability to vote, Michael said, noting that the more dependable military post offices give retirees the peace of mind that their votes reach their destination and are counted.
“Every election, we go [to the military post office] to cast our vote because we know our vote will get there,” he said. “If we have to use the Turkish system… it’s like rolling your dice. You just don’t know if your vote is ever going to get there.”
One of the perks of retiring from the military has long been the lifetime access to military installations and services, a benefit viewed as even more vital to those who have retired far from home. Yet Michael said retirees in Turkey were given very little justification for the sudden decision to revoke their access.
“There are many retirees who believe that this is a way of forcing them to go back to the United States, because if they don’t have base access here to be able to get the medicine they need, that pretty much closes the door for them,” he said.
As part of the memo Powell sent out about the new restrictions, the Air Force commander argued the decision was made necessary by the rules governing the status of U.S. forces in Turkey.
“The United States’ bilateral agreements with Turkey do not permit U.S. Forces to extend [Status of Forces Agreement] privileges or access to installations, facilities and activities to retirees,” Powell said in the memo.
Meanwhile, other bases around the world have been considering the same restrictions. According to the Military Times, officials at Aviano Air Base, Italy have been looking into similar changes to base access for retirees.
“At this time we cannot confirm if/when this change may take place” at Aviano, Air Force Capt. Mark Goss, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, told the outlet. “If there is a change in installation access policies, wing leadership will communicate this to those affected.”
Restrictions on access to bases in the Philippines have also been considered, according to the report, but were at least temporarily put on hold while officials reviewed the policies.
However, Michael argued that retirees have for years enjoyed access to these installations without issue, leading to speculation that the true reasoning behind the move is more likely an attempt at a “cost-saving measure.” Michael made clear that most retirees understand that restrictions could be enforced for security reasons, but he does not believe that has been an issue in Turkey.
“If ISIS all of the sudden appeared in Turkey or something and we have to get off the bases, we understand, we play ball,” he said.
Michael also expressed doubt that restricting retirees from base could save money, instead arguing that allowing their access is “extraordinarily profitable” for bases.
“The retirees use the retiree paychecks on base, so there’s also a huge monetary hit,” he said.
The combat veteran also pointed out that many of the exchanges on base feature kiosks that are owned by local vendors, who heavily depend on the retiree population for the business that sustains their income.
“There’s a lot of third party vendors who rent out a stall and they sell here in Turkey,” he said. “They tell me that 90% of their business is from retirees. So they’re not able to keep living and keep their livelihood.”