By Debbie Gregory.
The Department of Defense has made a policy change to allow 16 million honorably discharged veterans to shop online for discounted military exchange products.
Not only does the change reward those who have served by giving them a 20 percent savings over commercial department stores, but it will also increase exchange revenues to offset recent declines.
Peter K. Levine, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, signed a memorandum announcing the benefit expansion, effective Veterans’ Day 2017.
Months of preparation are needed to make e-shopping portals more robust and to allow the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) time to create software for verifying veterans’ status using Department of Veterans Affairs records.
Several million vets already are eligible to shop in exchanges — on base or online — because they are active or reserve component retirees, or 100-percent disabled from service-connected injuries or ailments, or Medal of Honor recipients.
The military relies on the revenue from the exchanges to fund its Morale, Welfare and Recreational activities. By adding veterans to the online patron base, exchange services expect total annual online sales to jump from $250 million to $1 billion in less than four years.
The commissary shopping benefit isn’t involved, so there won’t be any dilution to that benefit, or any increase in crowding or product availability. Military retirees, 100-percent disabled veterans and Medal of Honor recipients would still be the only veterans allowed to shop in base exchanges.
The online benefit does not extend to veterans’ dependents, although spouses and family members theoretically could use the authorized customer’s log-in credentials, given the nature of an online shopping benefit.
Proponents were anxious to see the initiative approved before the Obama administration ends Jan. 20 to avoid having to re-argue its merits to new leaders.
Military exchanges acknowledge that they are losing sales to popular online sites such as Amazon, particularly as military patrons grow increasingly comfortable with using smart phones and tablets to shop.