Defense officials appear to support expanding online exchange shopping benefits to all honorably discharged veterans, according to a report they recently sent to Congress.

"A new source of revenue that could increase contributions to [Morale, Welfare and Recreation] and other quality of life programs is the expansion of the online shopping benefit to honorably discharged veterans," stated the report, which detailed ways to reduce the amount of taxpayer dollars used to support the entire defense resale system. The benefit would apply only to online shopping, not to the stores operated on bases.

DoD has been considering has considered the idea for two years, and its future has been was unclear.

But the report indicates a clearly favored favorable approach. The three exchange systems are developing the Veterans Online Shopping Benefit initiative, according to the report. "This initiative is being spearheaded by [the Defense Resale Business Optimization Board] and requires a policy change with respect to the Departments' patronage tables," the report stated. It The change doesn't require a change in law. 

"Expansion of the online benefit is a low-risk, low-cost opportunity that requires no [taxpayer funding] from the exchange system and can generate meaningful incremental sales and earnings for the entire military community," officials stated. A DoD spokesman said in late May that officials have identified some extra information needed for the proposal, and declined to comment on "pre-decisional" recommendations.

The DoD report to Congress was required by law last year, to look for ways to save money in the operation of commissaries and exchanges while preserving the quality of life benefits — -- savings, services, convenience, and dividends to morale, welfare and recreation programs.

AAFES’ Army & Air Force Exchange Service CEO Tom Shull proposed the idea two years ago to Defense Department officials to expand the online shopping benefit, noting that it would provide a modest benefit to those who had served but left the military short of retirement, losing their exchange shopping benefits.

DoD officials now appear to agree with Shull's proposal. "By extending this privilege to the nearly 18 million living veterans who have contributed to the defense of our nation, the exchange systems will continue to honor their service while enhancing the quality of life benefits of our current service members and their families," the DoD report noted.

"Revenues from online sales would contribute to the earnings that go directly toward supporting MWR programs in support of the greater military community.

"Even with only modest adoption by the veteran community, the exchange system could realize meaningful additional annual dividend contributions,." according to the report.

Meanwhile, AAFES officials have been upgrading their shopping site, and are scaling up their distribution centers to handle the increased volume if more veterans are allowed to shop.

Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at

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.

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