A proposal to expand online military exchange shopping benefits to all honorably discharged veterans is in the final stages of the decision-making process at the Pentagon, sources said.
If Defense Department officials sign off on the idea, and if Congress doesn't object within 30 days to any proposed changes, the benefit could be in place by Veterans Day, according to documents obtained by Military Times and sources familiar with the discussions.
Information was not immediately available from defense officials about who makes the final decision or when it would be made. One source familiar with the process said a decision is expected within the next few weeks. It was unclear whether the incoming administration, which takes over Jan. 20, would affect the decision in either direction.
Asked about where the proposal stands, DoD spokesman Army Lt. Col. Myles Caggins said it's "still under consideration by the Defense Department."
The benefit wouldn't extend to brick-and-mortar stores. Active-duty service members, Guard and reserve members and retirees, along with dependent family members and 100 percent disabled veterans (and certain others) are eligible to shop at the exchanges whether online or in person. But most of those who leave the military before retirement – about 90 percent of veterans – aren't eligible.
It’s estimated that more than 18 million honorably discharged veterans are ineligible for shopping benefits at the military exchanges.
Pentagon officials have been pondering the online shopping benefit idea for nearly three years. In 2014, Army and Air Force Exchange Service CEO Tom Shull said he proposed the idea as a way to give "a modest benefit to honor the service" of those who left the military before retirement age. He noted that among this group are many veterans who have deployed four, five or more times to war in the post-9/11 era.
The profits that could be generated from the increased customer base would help the active-duty and retired military community in several ways, Shull said, providing more funding to morale, welfare and recreation programs on military bases, and toward improving brick-and-mortar stores. This would apply to the AAFES ( www.shopmyexchange.com), and Navy Exchange ( www.mynavyexchange.com) online shopping sites; all sites are open to anyone with shopping privileges.
The benefit would provide more than $50 million in profits once fully implemented, officials estimated. Historically, about 50 percent of profits from military exchange online sales are paid to MWR programs.
The Defense Manpower Data Center would provide the data necessary to authenticate a veteran's status.
Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .