The benefit clears the way for honorably discharged veterans from any era to shop at the exchange stores online. In the past, the shopping benefit both online and at brick-and-mortar locations was limited primarily to active-duty troops; National Guardsmen, reservists and their dependents; and retirees and their dependents.
The benefit, which is set to officially begin on Nov. 11 -- Veterans Day -- rolled out June 5 for a group of "beta testers" randomly selected from those who applied to use the system via the new VetVerify.org web portal. That system allows veterans' information to be verified with the Defense Department so they can be cleared to use the online exchange stores.
About 57,000 veterans have been verified through the system since the June 5 start, said Christopher Ward, a spokesman with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which is managing the program. About four percent of those verified have been selected as beta testers, he said.
When selected as early users, veterans will receive either a message at the time of application letting them know that they can shop immediately or an email notification later. Early users are being added on a rolling basis, Ward said.
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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.
Early users will also be sent additional emails asking about their experience.
"You have been randomly granted early access to all of the online exchanges as part of the Veterans online shopping benefit. This means you can create an account, explore the sites and start shopping today!" the email announcing early selection for the site states.
"As part of this beta test, you will periodically receive surveys regarding your experience shopping with the exchanges," it states. "Your feedback will help us meet your needs as well as address any concerns you may have."
Not everyone who uses the system has had a seamless experience. About 10,000 applicants have applied but cannot be located in the Pentagon's manpower system, officials said.
That's likely because the veteran's service records are not yet digitally archived, the record is available but missing the character of service, or the record has been lost altogether, officials note on the VetVerify site.
To correct the problem, veterans should follow instructions on VetVerify, which vary depending on the error message they received after applying.
About 13 million veterans qualify for the new benefit. Less than 1 percent of those who have applied so far have been shown as ineligible based on their service records, officials said.
Only honorably discharged veterans qualify for the benefit.
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.