By Marguerite Cleveland
Beginning January 1, 2020, you may see more shoppers at your local Commissary and Exchange, up to three million more. The FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act expands the eligibility to former prisoners of war, Purple Heart recipients, disabled Veterans (service-connected) and caregivers for Veterans will now have shopping privileges as well as use of base MWR programs that generate revenue. It is the largest expansion of authorized users in over 60 years authorizing a 50% increase in potential customers.
On a positive note, more shoppers are a way to reverse the declining revenues for on-base stores. More revenue for the Exchanges means more money towards military quality of life. For the commissary it will help to keep the commissary privilege which is a huge noncash compensation benefit for service members. Three million seems like a lot of new patrons but that will be spread out across all branches of the service and all the facilities in the U.S. making the impact negligible.
For military families who have grown accustomed to shopping at the commissaries and exchanges and their service member maybe facing a medical board. It will be an added benefit to know that they will still be able to enjoy the discounted prices if their service member is medically discharged.
The Military Times reported that Homeland Security (Coast Guard facilities), the Defense Department and Veteran Affairs have been working for more than six months to plan for the new expansion. The planning process has looked at which states have high populations of disabled veterans such as Florida, California and Texas. They also looked at high cost areas where new patrons could be drawn by the lower prices such as Hawaii, Alaska, California, D.C., New York, New Jersey and Washington. They will use this analysis to prepare for the additional items which will be needed to keep shelves full and avoid any shortages.
One issue is how the new shoppers will gain access to the installations so they can shop. According to the Military Times, the Veteran’s Health ID Card will be used for disabled and other eligible Veterans. Once the technology is enabled at the front gate, the cards will be scanned to allow access to the installation. The cards will also be read by commissary systems before checkout. For caregivers, you must be registered in the Department of Veterans Affairs Caregiver Program. Initially there will be a memo you can print out. The goal is to develop a caregiver ID card.
By law there can be no further expense to the commissary, so new customers paying with a credit card at the commissary will be charged a fee, to cover the commissaries cost for the credit card fee. There is no fee if a new shopper uses cash, check or the military star card.
Do you think adding new shoppers to the commissary and exchanges are a good idea? How do you think it will impact your shopping experience?
Marguerite Cleveland is a freelance writer who specializes in human interest and travel stories. She is a military brat, a veteran and now a military spouse. Her military experience is vast as the daughter of a Navy man who served as an enlisted sailor and then Naval Officer. She served as an enlisted soldier in the reserves and on active duty, then as an Army Officer. She currently serves as a military spouse. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two sons. Visit her website www.WanderWordsWine.com