A change to the national defense budget will allow more people to qualify for military shopping benefits, increasing the number of beneficiaries by 3 million — or 50 percent.
The increase, made possible by 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, will allow all service-connected disabled veterans, Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war and primary veteran caregivers access to fully stocked commissaries and exchanges beginning January 1, 2020, Military Times reported.
Prior to this, shopping was only available to veterans with 100 percent service-connected disabilities but now all service-connected disabilities are included.
Virginia Penrod, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs. said this is the “largest patronage expansion in more than 60 years.”
Using VA statistics, Penrod said they have been able to determine the number of new shoppers by location, as well as what products interest them most. This information will ensure the supply chain “remains responsive to the increased sales volume to ensure no out of stock situations occur.”
The new customers will also be able to enjoy “morale, welfare and recreation activities.”
Preparations are being made by three different federal agencies, DoD, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security, who have been planning for the increase since the beginning of the year.
Justin Hall, director of the DoD office of MWR and Resale Policy said, “That’s a huge lift across the entire system.”
Chris Ward, spokesman for AAFES said, “Extending the brick-and-mortar military exchange benefit to all disabled veterans is not expected to require material investments in facilities or technology.”
VA caregivers are also included in the benefit and while there are around 30,000 current caregivers, it is anticipated that number will grow substantially over the next several years, up to a possible 250,000.
New customers will be grouped as disabled veterans and other eligible veterans and as caregivers.
The first group will simply use their veterans’ health ID at the front gate to enter the stores but for caregivers, a memo will be posted to the VA website to use for entry. Caregivers will also need to show proper ID, until cards that can be scanned are created.
New customers that opt to use a credit card to shop will have to pay a yet to be determined fee to do so, unless they use their Military Star card.