Honorably discharged veterans who want to shop at the online exchanges could be given access as early as Monday as part of a group of "beta testers" through a new veteran shopper verification system launched Monday morning.
The Defense Department resale board last year approved a plan to open the exchange's online stores to all veterans. Those who are verified through a new site will have access to all of the online exchange stores, including AAFES, the Coast Guard Exchange, the Marine Corps Exchange and the Navy Exchange.
The verification site, VetVerify.org, asks users to input their first and last names, last four digits of their Social Security number, birth date, email address and service branch. Veterans will then be notified whether they are ineligible, are already eligible to shop, that they will be eligible on the official Nov. 11 launch date, or that they have been randomly selected to be a beta tester.
The new benefit is available to all honorably discharged veterans. The rule change does not allow the new veteran shoppers to use the exchange in person or shop at the commissary. It also does not include access to gasoline, tobacco or uniform sales.
Officials with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) said early shoppers will be given access on a rolling basis in an effort to make sure the system is ready when the benefit fully opens on Veterans Day. Although verification and shopping should be seamless, they said it is possible that beta users could experience some hiccups.
"They don't want to just open this thing on Veterans Day ... when you can work the kinks out ahead of time," said Chris Ward, an AAFES spokesman. "That is the point of doing this -- to make sure there aren't any hiccups or bugs in the system."
Products purchased through the exchanges are tax free, and a percentage of revenue benefits Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs.
About 13 million veterans qualify for the new benefit. Officials did not have an estimate for how many veterans are expected to shop the online exchanges after Veterans Day or how many will register early.
"We're kind of just going in blind," Ward said. "We're rolling it out this early -- I don't anticipate everyone comes today."
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at email@example.com.