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Exchange Wants to Open Website to all Veterans

The Army Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES), which operates Exchanges, Class Six stores, Shoppettes and gas stations on Army posts and Air Force bases worldwide, wants to expand who can use their online shopping option.

Right now shopping both in brick and mortar stores and online is limited to ID card holders (Active Duty, Retirees, Guard and Reserve), 100 percent disabled veterans and, for the physical stores, veterans who are on hospitalized near a store location.

That means that 90 percent of veterans aren't eligible to shop at the stores, which offer products with no sales a tax -- a potentially major  savings, especially if you are buying high ticket items.

The expansion, which must be approved by the Defense Department, could come on the heals of a $50 million upgrade to AAFES website ordering platform, according to officials with the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). That upgrade is scheduled to launch this fall, AAFES officials said.

Other than what seems like a minor impact to potential income tax revenue in the state in which the user resides, expanding online shopping to all veterans would have literally no negative impact on current users. If anything, increasing AAFES revenue would be positive, advocates of the proposal say, because so much of the system's income is pushed back to MWR programs on bases worldwide.

AAFES officials estimate that expanding online sales to all veterans could bump ecommerce income from the $200 million to $1 billion by 2019. And since 70 percent of AAFES earnings go right back into funding MWR activities, that could be a huge boost to benefits for everyone.

One concern some have expressed over the expansion, said Karen Golden, the deputy director of government relations and military family issues with MOAA is "benefit creep." If this benefit is expanded to all veterans regardless of service time, they worry, others will follow.

But Golden says her organization doesn't think that's going to happen.

"We believe this is very limited," she said. "This is a very small token of appreciation to everyone who has honorably worn the uniform."

AAFES as well as the Navy Exchange system operates on military bases worldwide. Income goes into MWR and back into improving the stores. A very small tax payer subsidy helps goods get to overseas locations without charging $5 for a Coke. Unlike the Defense Commissary Agency, which receives a tax payer subsidy to operate, the exchange service funds itself.

AAFES officials said the expansion would have literally no impact on those who currently shop there.

"Opening shopmyexchange.com to all honorably discharged veterans would be costless as the Exchange would leverage platforms already in place," Judd Anstey, an exchange spokesman said.

Veterans will be verified through the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) system, which tracks all living veterans as well as active duty users, AAFES officials said.

What do you think? Is opening the exchange online to ALL veterans a good idea? Tell us why or why not!

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