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Long Overdue Welcome Home

(This article first appeared in the November-December 2017 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

This Veterans’ Day the Military Exchange will open its virtual doors to more than 13 million veterans. All honorably-discharged veterans will receive a lifelong benefit to online exchange shopping – a long overdue welcome home.

The Exchange was established in 1895 to serve America’s Armed Forces, but this is the first time in its 122- year history that all honorably-discharged veterans will be able to take advantage of the tax-free, competitive, military discounts offered by the Exchange. Until now only active-duty, members of the Guard and Reserve, retirees, 100 percent disabled veterans, Medal of Honor recipients and dependent family members of these groups were permitted to use military exchanges.

Exchanges are self-supporting. They depend on the sale of goods and services, which accounts for 98 percent of their operating budget. One hundred percent of all Exchange earnings are used to support the military community through Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) and other quality of life programs that are critical to maintaining force readiness and resiliency.

Exchanges provide over $300 million annually to help fund child development centers, youth services, fitness centers, outdoor recreation and more. Exchanges have allocated more than $2.4 billion to these military programs over the last decade and have reinvested in new and renovated stores. Last year alone, the Exchange outfitted 1.1 million troops with combat uniforms, served 3 million school lunches to their children and enabled the operation of seven plants that provide baked goods, bottled water and ice to overseas bases. The Exchange is also a source of income to military families and veterans. Approximately 85 percent of the 34,000 Exchange associates are connected to the military.

But Exchange benefits are at risk. In the past few years, sales have declined largely due to drawdowns creating a reduction in force and because there are more prevalent online shopping opportunities for military members and their families, impacting how much the Exchange can give back to the military community. Officials estimated sales would drop to one-third of their current levels in the next few years.

Recognizing changes to their business model needed to be made, the Department of Defense (DoD) Resale Board voted to allow online access to all honorably-discharged military veterans. This is the first time in nearly three decades that the DoD expanded Exchange shopping privileges. The new rule does not include brick and mortar stores located on military bases because current support structures cannot sustain 19 million veterans gaining access to bases and would likely infringe on military operations.

The change is expected to return an additional $100 million to the military community each year. Increased sales would also allow AAFES and NEX to negotiate bigger discounts on larger, bulk orders of the goods it sells – bringing even greater savings to our deserving U.S. Service members, veterans and their families.

The Exchange websites offer millions of products including apparel and accessories, jewelry and watches, health and beauty, electronics, home goods and appli- ances, baby products and toys, and more. Actual online pricing can only be seen by those authorized to shop online. Shipping is free for online orders of $49 or more.

To get started, veterans will need to register at VetVerify.org. VetVerify.org uses information from the Defense Department's Defense Manpower Data Center to verify a veteran’s status. Veterans will receive notification of their acceptance as online shoppers, or if their records are incomplete, they will receive guidance on the steps they can take to update those records. Veterans are invited to register prior to the launch date so they can start shopping on Nov. 11.

To learn more about the Exchange, its price match policies, or to start shopping once you’ve successfully registered visit: shopmyexchange.comshopcgx.commymcx.com; and mynavyexchange.com.

Thank you for your service. Happy Veterans’ Day.

– Human Relations Department