Why Can't Veterans Shop at the Exchange?

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

Dear Q&B,

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


-- Alex

Dear Alex,

I hear from a lot of veterans who want to shop in person at the exchange but can't because they don't have access. Thanks to a 2017 rule change, all honorably discharged veterans can shop at the Exchange online, but not on base.

So where do these rules on who can and can't shop at the exchange and commissary come from?

One word: Congress.

Federal law, approved by Congress, sets who can and cannot shop on at on-base stores. According to that law, shopping at exchanges and in commissaries is limited to active duty and retirees and their dependents, members of the National Guard and Reserve and their dependents, 100 percent service-connected disabled veterans and Medal of Honor recipients.

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.

-- Team Q&B

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