If you're an active duty service member or veteran, news about the recent AAFES petition to open online sales to veterans as well as active duty members might have already reached you, in all its controversial argument-spawning glory.
Maybe you haven’t! For veterans enrolled in online college classes through Grantham, that might mean enjoying the privilege of online Exchange shopping — which has always been reserved only for active duty in the near future.
The Purpose of the Exchange
The Exchange has always been geared toward offering low-cost general merchandise to active duty service members. The AAFES serves the Army and Air Force, while the Coast Guard, Marines and Navy also offer similar services on military bases around the world. Each Exchange service answers directly to the Department of Defense. The most recent controversy surrounds AAFES.
Petition to Change Online Shopping Eligibility
According to a report from Military Times, the leadership of AAFES petitioned the Department of Defense for permission to open online sales to honorably discharged veterans, as well as active duty service members. AAFES cited mostly economic reasons for broadening their customer base.
The change would allow almost 19 million honorably discharged veterans to shop the Exchange online. According to AAFES, that could result in another $1 billion in sales each year. Because some of AAFES profits are pumped directly into quality-of-life and morale programs for active-duty service members, the change has the potential to inject as much as $100 million into those morale, welfare, and recreation programs each year, according to Military.com.
That would make a big difference in the services offered to those actively serving our country — while also showing appreciation to veterans, at least in a small way.
If you're an active duty service member working toward an online degree through Grantham, chances are good that you've purchased some of your school supplies from an Exchange location, at lower prices than you'd likely find at a Best Buy or other major retailer. Some military officials say those privileges should remain limited to active duty members only.
Senior policy officials in the Navy and Coast Guard Exchange services have made it clear they don't think the changes needed to make online Exchange shopping available to veterans would be as simple as AAFES makes it sound.
Verifying the status of a veteran's discharge, ensuring that all online shoppers are actually veterans in the first place, and limiting orders to those who qualify for Exchange shopping privileges could be a massively involved process, they say. Others worry that the change would "steal" customers from the Veteran's Canteen Service, a merchandiser catering specifically to veterans.
The petition will be reviewed by Department of Defense (DOD) officials. The AAFES request underscores the importance of speed and efficiency in resolving the issue. "Any delay in addressing this critical population [of veterans] only weakens the entire military community," the AAFES report states. The DOD has no deadline for addressing the issue, though; for now, it's a waiting game.
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