WASHINGTON (AFNS) --
Servicemembers and their families who were born in Puerto Rico will need to obtain a new birth certificate starting July 1, although the Defense Department will honor the certificate they used to establish their identity and to enroll for military benefits prior to that date, a defense official said.
The Puerto Rican government, in cooperation with the departments of State and Homeland Security, has enacted a new law that invalidates all Puerto Rico birth certificates issued on or before June 30. The law, which takes effect July 1, is intended to combat the fraudulent use of Puerto Rico birth certificates to obtain U.S. passports, Social Security benefits and other federal services, according to officials from the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.
Within the Defense Department, officials will accept only the new, certified birth certificate for initial enrollment into the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System as of July 1, said Heidi Boyd, a senior policy analyst for Defense Department ID card policy. DEERS is the department's database of servicemembers, their family members and others who are eligible for military benefits, including the Tricare military health plan.
However, the birth certificate used by servicemembers and their families to enroll in DEERS prior to July 1 will remain valid and they will remain enrolled, Ms. Boyd said.
"Identity is very important for (the Defense Department), and we need as much as we can to establish identity," she said. "But we're not going to take someone's benefits away. We're going to make sure everyone gets the coverage and entitlements they're supposed to get through this process."
Still, Ms. Boyd recommends that servicemembers, their families, Defense Department civilians and contractors born in Puerto Rico apply for a new birth certificate for identification purposes, including ID card renewal.
"People with an old birth certificate should do the best they can to get a new one as quickly as possible," she said. "And we'll do everything we can to make sure the process is easy for them and benefits are not disrupted."
People can apply for a new certificate online at http://pr.gov, or through the mail by completing an application available at http://www.salud.gov.pr/Programas/RegistroDemografico/Documents/Birth20Certificate%20Application.pdf
While people can apply now, the government won't start issuing the new birth certificates until July 1, Ms. Boyd said.
Defense Department officials are also working with the Puerto Rican government officials to establish an expedited mail-in system for military members, said Christopher Arendt, the deputy director of accession policy.
This system, he added, still is in the planning stages, and people should continue to apply online until it's launched.
After July 1, people who have applied for but haven't received the new birth certificate and require DEERS enrollment or an ID card issuance or renewal can obtain a temporary 90-day card through their military service branch, Ms. Boyd said. She also encouraged servicemembers and their families to keep alternate documents, such as a passport or driver's license, on hand to establish identity and eligibility.