This Veterans Day, all honorably discharged service members will receive a new benefit – the ability to buy discounted products at military exchanges through an expanded online shopping network.
The program will open up military exchanges to America’s 18.5 million veterans – including an estimated 52,000 in Wake County.
Currently, the online exchanges at ShopMyExchange.com, shopcgx.com, mymcx.com and mynavyexchange.com, are available for active duty members, their dependents and veterans who retired with at least 20 years of service. While the new benefit will allow any honorably discharged member of any branch of the military to shop at the online exchanges no matter their years of service, they still can’t shop at the exchanges on base. That remains reserved for 20-year veterans and active duty members of the military.
“We think it’s a great way to honor their service,” said Tom Shull, chief executive officer and director of the Army & Air Force Exchange Service and a former Army major. “It’s a way to welcome them home, in addition to reconnect them to their military family.”
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Shull said the stores and online network sell anything you could find at a shopping mall, including brand-name clothes, electronics, housewares, tools and jewelry. He said that the online shopping sites have brands like Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren and Nike and are similar to browsing the online sites of department stores like Macy’s.
On average, prices are 20 percent lower than in traditional retailers and are tax-free. Orders will typically be delivered in two to three days using a variety of different carriers.
Store profits go toward military quality-of-life programs such as Army Child Development Centers, Youth Programs and Fitness Centers and Air Force Outdoor Recreation. The sales from the online expansion are projected to be about $200 million annually with $10 million in dividends for the programs.
Shull said the exchange benefits were last expanded in 1990 to include National Guard and Reserve members. He decided early in his tenure as director to work on providing the benefit for all veterans.
This involved negotiating with the Department of Defense, which oversees the exchange. Some worried that offering the benefit to all veterans would diminish its value for those currently receiving it, particularly veterans who had served for 20 years or more.
“Our point of view ultimately won out. Our focus should be on the war fighters and their families,” Shull said. “In doing a lot of research, we found that retirees would gladly support having a broader benefit as long as it doesn’t impact them negatively.”
Another concern was how the newly-expanded program would affect the retail industry as a whole. However, Shull noted that exchanges sales will only be 0.1 percent of overall U.S. online sales combined. He said the National Retail Federation was supportive and understood the benefit of honoring those who have served.
As the program achieves better earnings, it will be able to better support the quality-of-life programs.
“It’s one of those virtuous circles,” Shull said. “By earning more online, we can make the existing benefit better.”
To participate in the exchanges starting Nov. 11, veterans can go to ShopMyExchange.com and verify their eligibility, which more than 225,000 have already done.
Michael Slivka, who served in the Air Force for four years and now lives in Raleigh, was one of the beta testers ahead of the Nov. 11 launch. He said that he saved $300 on a new chaise for his living room.
Slivka’s wife, an avid shopper, also loves the program and has bought Martha Stewart kitchen products and gifts for their grandchildren. Making the exchange available to all veterans is a positive step forward in veterans’ benefits, Slivka said.
“That’s really what they should be doing;, they should be opening it up and allowing all the veterans who served to shop on it,” he said.
Shull noted that most beta testers have given positive feedback so far, an early indicator that veterans will value the service.
He said his motivation for honoring veterans stems from witnessing how soldiers were mistreated when they returned from the Vietnam War.
“Those who serve, especially when only 1 percent of America serves today, should get special recognition,” Shull said. “You deserve to be treated with respect and dignity the rest of your life.”
What’s changed?: Starting Nov. 11, all honorably discharged veterans can shop at military exchanges online. Currently veterans have to have served 20 years to shop at the onlines exchanges.
Can all service members use the exchanges?: Yes. Members of the Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force, Army and National Guard can use the exchanges. For a full list of who has privileges – limited or unlimited – go to www.aafes.com/exchange-stores/patrons.htm. Veterans, however, can not use the exchanges on military bases. They can alo use the ones online.
What do I need to do to shop at an exchange?: Register at VetVerify.org to verify your eligibility. It is a shared services verification site among all the exchanges using information from official government records. You can register now to be ready to shop on Nov. 11.