Why Can't Veterans Shop at the Exchange?

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(U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)
(U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

I served in the Marine Corps from 1998 to 2002. I want to know: Why can't veterans shop at the exchange?

Actually, you can.

Starting in 2017 all honorably discharged veterans could shop at the Exchange online, but not on base.

And starting January 1, 2020, the Department of Defense expanded those shopping privileges to in-store military exchanges, the commissary and MWR resale facilities. So, if you meet the requirements, you can shop at the exchange.

From their website: “Veterans with a Department of Veterans Affairs-documented service-connected disability rating will be eligible for Department of Defense and Coast Guard commissary, exchange and MWR retail privileges beginning Jan. 1, 2020, under the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018.”

Are you curious as to who makes these rules on who can shop at the exchange and commissary?

We were, it’s Congress.

Federal law, approved by Congress, sets who can and cannot shop on at on-base stores.

Why are these rules in place?

Although not explained in federal law, the reason is pretty simple. In general, the discounts and cost savings users have by shopping tax-free at the exchanges or buying groceries at cost at the commissary are considered what is known as "non-monetary compensation." In other words, the benefit is part of the military pay troops receive for serving or, in the case of retirees, part of their military retirement benefits.

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