Plans are progressing to extend online military exchange shopping privileges to all honorably discharged veterans, Military Times has learned.
The Defense Department’s Executive Resale Board voted unanimously Aug. 9 to recommend the policy change, sources said. Extended shopping privileges would apply only to the exchange system's online stores — not brick-and-mortar facilities located on military installations.
The Pentagon did not immediately confirm the's board move, and its unclear what its next steps will be. Officials have said previously that they'd like to implement the expanded benefit on Veterans Day 2017.
Exchanges operate as discount department stores for the military community. Currently, access is authorized only for active-duty service members, reservists, National Guard personnel, retirees, veterans who are 100 percent disabled and immediate family members. Officials estimate that's about 10 percent of the nation's 21.7 million veterans.
If the plan proceeds, the Defense Manpower Data Center would be called on to verify veterans' status so they can shop at the exchange online.
The idea was proposed in May 2014 by Army and Air Force Exchange Service CEO Tom Shull, who touted it as a way to provide a modest benefit to veterans who didn’t serve long enough to retire from the military, including a number who have served multiple tours in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Navy Exchange Service Command CEO and retired Rear Adm. Robert Bianchi and Cindy Whitman Lacy, director of the Marine Corps Business and Support Services Division, have said they support the idea.
This would also benefit those currently serving, officials have said. Any increase in exchange profits would generate more money for the service's morale, welfare and recreation programs. According to one analysis, the exchanges could see an increase of $18 million to $72 million if online shopping is extended to all veterans.
Generally, about half of the exchanges' profits go to MWR dividends, and the rest goes to capital reinvestment in the exchanges, such as renovations and construction.