Like all retailers, the Army and Air Force Exchange (AAFES) is looking for ways to improve their business model. But unlike many other retailers, better business for AAFES means better quality of life for military members, as some of the profits are distributed back to the military community. Due to the changing environment and force reductions, the Defense Department’s Executive Resale Board voted to recommend allowing online access to honorably-discharged military veterans. This is expected to be rolled out in late 2017, pending final approval.
Currently, only active duty servicemembers, members of the Guard and Reserves, military retirees, 100-percent disabled veterans, Medal of Honor recipients, and the families of these groups are eligible to shop at AAFES locations, either online or on-base.
Note that this proposal only includes allowing veterans to shop online, not at the physical stores located on bases. There is no current proposal to allow veterans to shop at on-base locations.
Impact of Allowing Veterans to Shop at AAFES Online Stores
AAFES officials estimate there are approximately 19 million veterans with an Honorable Discharge who would be allowed to shop at AAFES online stores under this proposal. Allowing these veterans to shop at AAFES online stores would give these veterans access to savings on a variety of products and could provide an additional $100 million for base Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs and other quality of life programs. Increased sales could also allow AAFES to negotiate discounts on larger, bulk orders of goods.
This proposal is an important part of supporting the military community. AAFES distributes dividends to the MWR programs and other military activities. Over the last few years, AAFES sales have decreased substantially as military members and their families shop at other locations, and as the size of the military continues to decrease. The continued drawdown will have a dramatic impact on AAFES sales and how much money they can give back to the military community. AAFES officials estimate their sales could drop to one third of their current levels within the next few years. Extending the privilege of online shopping to qualified veterans would be a good way to thank veterans for their service, increase sales for AAFES, and increase distributions to base programs.
Exchange Online Shopping for Veterans FAQ’s
Who will have access to the online shopping portal?
The proposal calls for giving access to all honorably discharged veterans. This has yet to be voted on and the final wording hasn’t been approved. But there is a lot of support for this from all sides, so it’s likely to happen.
We will need to wait to see the exact language to see if this will only include those with an honorable discharge, or if it would include other discharge types.
How will AAFES check ID’s or proof of service?
That is still currently in progress. The Exchange services have been working with the VA and the DoD personnel centers to develop methods for verifying service and eligibility. The VA is also currently developing a Veterans ID Card. It’s possible there will be a unique Veteran Identification Number on these cards, once issued (pure speculation on my part, but current service members have a unique DoD Identification Number on their CAC Cards).
How will the Exchange profits be shared to local MWR units?
Base Exchanges share a portion of their profits with the local MWR units. That keeps the money “in the family” so to speak (local purchases support local MWR units). As of right now, the proposal is to allocate spending and profits based on the zip code of where the veteran who made the purchase lives. That is the easiest and most effective way to keep profits in the area where the purchases are made.
Will on-base Exchange access be offered to all veterans?
That’s not in the proposal, and I don’t see that happening anytime soon, if ever. There are approximately 19 million military veterans in the US. It would be impossible to open the doors to that many military veterans. Military bases function to serve one need: support military operations. The support structures simply aren’t in place to support that many more people coming onto military installations. Just think of the lines at the gates, increased need for security guards, checking ID’s, parking problems, infrastructure problems, the hassle of preventing unauthorized access from restricted areas, etc. It would be a nightmare! Good question though.
Will Commissary privileges be open to all veterans?
No, unfortunately not. The Commissary is run by a different organization and only offers brick and mortar stores. They do not offer online shopping. There would be no effective method for providing Commissary access to all veterans at this time (see above).
Why do you continue to write “Base” Exchange when there are also the Post Exchanges, Marine Corps Exchanges, and the Navy Exchange Service Command? Who is asking these questions anyway?
Another great question from the peanut gallery. I’m using the term “Exchange” interchangeably for all services. The Marine Corps Exchange actually funnels all online shoppers through the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (see, it even says so here!). So far as I am aware, these changes will also apply to the NEX Online portal.
But to answer your questions, I primarily reference AAFES because it is the largest of the Exchanges, and being an Air Force veteran and current member of the Air National Guard, it makes it easier to reference that with which I am most familiar. Thus “AAFES” and the use of the term “Base.” But you can print this article out and redline the word Base and replace it with Post, Station, NAS, FOB, or anything that floats your boat (drives your tank? flies your plane? OK, I’m going now…).
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Desiree Whitney Esposito