The idea of expanding online exchange-shopping benefits to all honorably discharged veterans is moving closer to reality, with all three military-exchange services supporting the idea.
The Defense Department's deputy chief management officer is addressing the related issues, Army and Air Force Exchange Service CEO Thomas C. Shull confirmed. Once the concept is approved, the online benefit could be rolled out to veterans within as little as six months.
At a session of the American Logistics Association's annual convention Tuesday, DoD Deputy Chief Management Officer Peter Levine did not directly talk about online exchange privileges for veterans, but he did say the department is looking at ways to expand the customer base in the military resale community.
The Navy and its Navy Exchange Service Command support the idea, said NEXCOM CEO and retired Rear Adm. Robert J. Bianchi. There are details to be worked out, but "in general, we all believe we can get there," Bianchi said in an interview.
"It's a nice way to provide a version of a nonpay benefit to those who have served," Bianchi said.
The benefit would be for online shopping only; honorably discharged veterans would be able to shop at the Navy Exchange website, Mynavyexchange.com, as well as the AAFES website, Shopmyexchange.com. While Shull has been the point man on the idea, Bianchi said, "we've been working collaboratively."
"Frankly, [veterans] would go back and forth between [the sites] and have freedom of choice," Bianchi said, "And Veterans Canteen Service would continue to have an online presence."
Cindy Whitman Lacy, director of the Marine Corps' Nonappropriated Fund Business and Support Services Division, said the Marine Corps Exchange is also supportive of the veterans online-shopping benefit.
While all the services, including the Marine Corps and Coast Guard, support the idea, "we still have work to do" with the Veterans Canteen Service, Shull said.
"We want to make it work for them, too," he said.
VCS operates resale stores in Veterans Affairs medical facilities.
One reason the benefit hasn't been rolled out already, Shull said, is concerns about whether the AAFES website could handle the potential large wave of extra customers.
The website suffered myriad problems when it was relaunched a year ago, but those issues have been resolved, he said.
Shull noted that about 50 percent of online customers had complaints a year ago, compared to about 4 percent now.
Shull submitted a proposal to defense officials in May 2014, arguing that even if they don't serve to retirement, honorably discharged veterans should get this modest benefit to honor their service.
He said it's particularly appropriate in light of the numerous wartime deployments over the past 15 years.
"If I could leave with my team this legacy, providing a benefit where all veterans could shop online — strictly online — I'd feel like I actually made a real contribution," Shull told the convention.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.