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Senate passes measure to extend commissary, exchange privileges to more veterans

Naval Air Station Jacksonville Commissary shoppers find their way around the new store on opening day, Feb. 2, 2017 in Florida. (U.S. Navy)

The Senate approved a measure Wednesday that will allow more veterans to shop at discounted, on-base stores.

All Purple Heart and Medal of Honor recipients, former prisoners of war and veterans with disabilities connected to their military service, as well as veteran caregivers, would be eligible to shop at commissaries, according to the legislation.

The measure was included in the $716 billion National Defense Authorization Act that the Senate approved by a vote of 87 to 10. The bill will now go to President Donald Trump for his signature.

“With my legislation set to become law, we will finally open up our commissaries to war heroes,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, one of the senators behind the commissary measure.

Commissaries and exchanges are on-base stores that sell discounted groceries, clothing, appliances and other items. Eligibility is now limited to active-duty troops, members of the National Guard and reserves, military retirees, family members and some veterans.

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Schatz and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., urged the Senate last month to use the NDAA to expand commissary eligibility. They argued it could be a way to reverse declining revenues for the on-base stores.

“Expanding access to new patron groups promises to ensure long-term, sustainable access to commissary privilege — consistently ranked one of the most important non-cash compensation benefit among servicemembers,” they wrote at the time.

As of Nov. 11, 2017, the military began allowing all honorably discharged veterans to shop at online exchanges, increasing the benefit to nearly 20 million potential customers. However, the change didn’t apply to brick-and-mortar stores.

In addition to allowing more veterans to use on-base commissaries and exchanges, the measure will enable them to access lodging facilities that fall under military Morale, Welfare and Recreation services.

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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