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Military update: Officials: Allowing veterans to shop online could boost profits

Allowing 18.8 million honorably discharged veterans to shop online through military exchange services, which also operate brick-and-mortar department stores and concessions on base, could boost store profits enough to pump more than $100 million back into base quality-of-life programs.

That’s part of the “business case” made by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) to the Department of Defense’s Executive Resale Board this month where Navy officials still raised concerns over the idea.

Thomas C. Shull, chief executive officer of AAFES, proposed to Defense officials several months ago that veterans be allowed to shop online through exchange service websites and, in that way, gain the same discounts on thousands of department-store items that on-base shoppers enjoy.

AAFES already is working with an outside contractor to modernize and expand its website for online shopping of current patrons, which include active duty, Reserve and Guard members, military retirees and families.

Senior policy officials who oversee Navy and Marine Corps exchange services, however, have challenged the idea, fearing “benefit creep” for veterans beyond online shopping into other military support programs. They also believe hurdles to implementing online shopping for all veterans will be higher than AAFES predicts, particularly in finding a foolproof way to verify veteran status and the character of their discharges.

Defense officials, meanwhile, have signaled they want unanimous support of service branches before they will embrace such a dramatic expansion of discount shopping, even if only online.

The Executive Resale Board, which resolves disagreements between elements of the military resale system, recently asked Shull to present a business case for opening online shopping to any veteran with an honorable discharge.

Board members representing every service are reviewing that report with comments due back Friday.

The board’s next scheduled meeting, however, isn’t until Nov. 4.

Shull has said he hoped to have his plan approved by Veterans’ Day, November 11, and have the benefit available to all qualified veterans a year later.

Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at:

[email protected]

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