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Most Vets Favor Idea of Online Exchange Shopping

tom-phipottPlipott's Forum presents opinions, insights and questions from readers of Tom Philpott’s weekly Military Update column.

What a great idea to open exchange shopping online to all veterans with honorable discharges. It seems like a win-win situation. The exchanges win because the military, their customer base, is getting smaller. Veterans win because the exchanges are such great places to shop. Go for it! E.J. BEAMAN Captain, USMC Via email

Allowing vets to access and purchase PX items via the internet is an outstanding idea. I buy a variety of merchandise from Amazon.com because of the convenience over retail shopping. That “model” could be easily adapted by AAFES as a separate entity, or Amazon could probably manage this service. Regardless, AAFES would realize increased sales and revenue. It would be a win-win for all parties. MIKE PRENDERGAST Austin, Texas

This is an excellent idea. As for verifying who is a veteran or survivor, why not use VA and CHAMPVA medical records, which are already established? I had a military ID card for 40 years. My 100-percent disabled husband died in 2000. After living alone more than 10 years, I remarried, and the Air Force took my ID card away. My late husband served 26 years. He died at age 63 due to his service. Loss of him, loss of more than 50 percent of pay and many more things made life difficult. I continued to be entitled to CHAMPVA benefits, VA home loans and possibly other benefits. But I can no longer have an ID card to shop on base though it became a way of life. I miss it. But I am a survivor, in more ways than one. Wal-Mart and Sam's Club now get my money. I'm sure millions of widows like me would welcome the opportunity to support again those stores our late husbands earned the right for us to use. Please relay that to Congress. SHIRLEY LAFLAMME TUBBS Via email

Great article on a great idea: opening online exchange shopping to all honorably discharged veterans. However, most store items cannot be shipped overseas! This is my 11th year living overseas (Germany and now Japan) and there are so many products that can't be mailed here that I have stopped even looking on military exchange websites. Why is that given that Zappos can send items to Japan in a week and Amazon.com can do so in a few weeks? STEPHANIE FERCH Yokota AFB

Patrons overseas do face several hurdles trying to shop online through military exchange systems. First, certain items can’t be shipped through the military postal system. And retirees, though authorized exchange shoppers, face restrictions on what they can receive in APO/FPO post office boxes. Meanwhile, exchanges say they can't ship to addresses on the local economy overseas because of exorbitant shipping costs and customs fees. And many vendors will not ship to overseas locations. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service encourages shoppers overseas to check with local exchanges for items currently available for shipment through shopmyexchange.com and specifically the AAFES “Click to Brick” program. – Tom Philpott

I always felt veterans should be able to use the exchange. I have been waiting to be able, at least, to use online access. That would be great and hope that it happens soon. I don't understand why there is such resistance. LILIANA ALVAREZ Via email

This is a wonderful idea. Every veteran who served honorably, whether for one year or 20, was in the danger of being imprisoned, wounded or killed for country. Some veterans fought in two or three wars but did not retire though they serve hard as a 20-year retiree. It would be nice to have a little more than online shopping benefits such as the privilege of shopping on base if only several times a year. I have worked with the armed forces for over 38 years – three as a soldier, later as non-appropriated fund employee and now as a DoD employee. Shopping at AAFES and in commissaries is a part of my family life style, but we will lose that when I retire from DoD. It would be an honor to be able to shop AAFES when I retire after a total of 43 years service to our Armed Forces. Mr. Shull has a good idea. I hope the armed forces come to and agreement to make online shopping a go and maybe the commissary as well. CEDRIC JONES Germany

My blood boiled when I read of this idea from [AAFES CEO and Major] Thomas Shull. This fellow believes in the “free handout system” as President Obama. Clinton started this bull when he opened the doors of VA health care, set up for disabled or impoverished vets, for those “honorably discharged” to feed at the government trough on free healthcare. Now Shull wants to let these same vets buy goods through a system set up for retirees and active duty people. What's next? Have two-to-four year vets use of the commissary and TRICARE for Life? Why in hell did I bother to stay in 26 years? I have four years active and 22 in the Reserves. I stayed in for the medical insurance and, to a lesser degree, the camaraderie. I certainly didn't realize I'd get a decent pension, approximately $1000 a month before taxes. However, I worked for my benefits! Why should the government give them to people who got out? I'm also a disabled vet, which is why I get ticked off seeing all of these people getting freebies at the VA. JAMES W HOWE, JR Sergeant First Class, USA-Ret. Via email

I don’t think it really matters if vets can shop online or not. If the Army Air Force Exchange Service doesn’t do something to bring prices down, I don’t think vets will use online access. They can get a better deal with the 10 percent discount offered to disabled veterans in some civilian stores. Post exchange prices are not low enough, especially for big-ticket items like refrigerators, ovens, freezers and televisions. I have been able to get a better deal at Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club than on base. DAVID RICE Via email

On the list of bad ideas, this has to be near the top. What's the point of staying in the military for 20 to 30 years if the “privileges” we allegedly earned become available to just about anyone. ROBERT W. NICHELINI USAF-Ret. Oakland, Calif.

I suggested extending commissary and exchange store privileges to veterans who are honorably discharge in a recent military survey. It is a win-win situation for the veteran and to preserve benefits to current service members. TERESA YOUNG Via email

I am all for allowing honorably discharged veterans like me to shop in exchanges online. I live in rural Montana and would love to be able to shop the PX again. VICKI J. Via email

Having served in the Army from 1956-1958, I think it is awful that so many of us vets get no VA benefits other than some health care. My service record was lost in a fire at St. Louis records center. My attempts to retrieve my records are met with no replies. I had an eye injury at Fort Dix, New Jersey in 1956. My hearing is harmed from a 75mm recoilless rifle. The Army also is responsible for mental problems I have had since they put me on Thorazine in 1957. Where are my benefits? Where are benefits for all vets who today have none? THOMAS J. CLARK Via email

As an honorably discharged Navy veteran who served four years in Vietnam, I would really welcome this benefit. CHUCK STEFFES Via email

If this proposal doesn't fly, then at least DoD should consider letting all service-connected disabled veterans shop in commissaries and exchanges. Thousands would be eligible yet it might fly quicker than allowing online access to honorably discharged veterans. DENNIS HENSLEY Via email

I'm a 70-percent-rated disabled vet. I could never understand why they would not allow us to access exchanges. I would shop online as much as possible. This would be a great benefit. I would hope too that they let disabled vets use commissaries on base if at least 50 percent disabled. PATRICK GILLETTE Via email

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Tom Philpott has been breaking news for and about military people since 1977. After service in the Coast Guard, and 17 years as a reporter and senior editor with Army Times Publishing Company, Tom launched "Military Update," his syndicated weekly news column, in 1994. "Military Update" features timely news and analysis on issues affecting active duty members, reservists, retirees and their families.

Visit Tom Philpott's Military Update Archive to view his past articles.

Tom also edits a reader reaction column, "Military Forum." The online "home" for both features is Military.com.

denied-105-158Tom's freelance articles have appeared in numerous magazines including The New Yorker, Reader's Digest and Washingtonian. His critically-acclaimed book, Glory Denied, on the extraordinary ordeal and heroism of Col. Floyd "Jim" Thompson, the longest-held prisoner of war in American history, is available in hardcover and paperback.

Buy Glory Denied from Amazon

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