With little fanfare, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum officially opened to the public Oct. 31 with a policy change: Veterans can visit free.

Leading up to an Oct. 27 ribbon-cutting ceremony, the museum had said that a regularly priced adult admission was $17, and veterans would pay $12.

There was negative public reaction over the weekend over veterans having to pay at all, especially after the Wexner Center for the Arts, on the campus of Ohio State University, announced just prior to the museum’s opening that the Wexner Center had changed its admission policy so veterans would no longer pay a fee.

No one with the museum was available to comment Oct. 31 about its policy change to free admission for veterans, but in a statement released through the public-relations firm that has worked on the project, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter, the president and CEO of the museum, implied that donors made the change possible.

In the written statement, he said: “We at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum are committed to providing free entry to all American military veterans. Thanks to our thoughtful partners, we are excited to share that we officially opened our doors today with free entry for any U.S. military veteran.

“It is our promise to allow them unfettered access to visit the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, dedicated to honoring the lives and stories of our veterans.”

The museum’s website indicates that active-duty personnel will pay an admission fee of either $15 (for higher ranks and pay grades) and $12 for those of lower rank. Gold Star families, who have experienced a loved one being killed in service, also won’t pay.

John Bittel, a 70-year-old Air Force veteran of the Vietnam era, was among several people who reached out to The Columbus Dispatch wondering why veterans had to pay to get into the national museum and memorial built to honor them.

Bittel said Oct. 31 he was pleased to hear that museum officials had reversed what he thought was an ill-advised policy.

“This is the right thing to do,” the Grove City resident said. “I thought it was ironic that veterans would have to pay at a museum built for them.”

He now plans to visit.

Overall, the Columbus Downtown Development Corp., the developer of the museum, raised $82 million for the project, including a $40.6 million donation from local philanthropists Leslie H. and Abigail Wexner. About $75 million was for construction, and the remainder was to cover startup costs. Amy Taylor, chief operating officer of the CDDC, has said the money raised also covers the first year of operational costs for the museum, and then an endowment will be in place to help sustain it.

The 53,000-square-foot museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays – and also will be open Monday, Nov. 12, in observance of Veterans Day – from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Go to nationalvmm.org for more information.

hzachariah@dispatch.com

@hollyzachariah