The Defense Department will begin allowing most veterans to make online purchases through military PXs, those on-base mini-department stores favored by active duty troops for their tax-free military gear, apparel, household goods and other items.
The post exchanges, which now are mostly limited to active duty, Guard, Reserve, military retirees, and 100 percent-disabled veterans, will be open beginning Nov. 11 — Veterans Day — to all honorably discharged veterans.
Last week, the exchanges began urging veterans who wish to use the online service to log onto VetVerify.org, which verifies a veteran’s discharge status using Defense Department records.
Chris Ward, a spokesman for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, said VetVerify began allowing veterans to register about a month ago. Some early registrants will be designated as beta testers, allowing them to begin shopping before the Nov. 11 opening, he added.
The expanded eligibility — which covers most of Nassau and Suffolk’s 130,000 veterans — does not include shopping rights at brick-and-mortar exchanges, including Long Island’s only facility at the naval installation at Mitchell Field, in Garden City. Also, alcohol and tobacco products are not available online.
With the aggressive pricing offered by the plethora of local big-box stores, plus the ability to sometimes avoid taxes by using other online retailers, could make it hard for the exchanges to compete, some Long Island veterans said.
“They are not always the best deals out there,” said Paul Oddo, of Mastic Beach, a two-tour Iraq War veteran who used exchanges at bases there and while stationed at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. “But you can get stuff there that you can’t get easily, like military T-shirts and gear. Some people will use them because you’ve used them before and are comfortable with them.”
DOD officials have said they hope that expanding the pool of eligible PX shoppers to millions of veterans — a decision finalized in the last weeks of the Obama administration after four years of planning — will at least double the exchanges’ online presence, leading to expanded revenues, broader merchandise offerings, and more competitive pricing.
Profits from the exchanges mostly go to morale-building programs for military personnel and their families, such as recreational opportunities, youth services, and family counseling. The Army and Air Force Exchange — the largest of the exchanges, has contributed more than $2.4 billion in dividends to these programs over the past 10 years, the Air Force reported last year.
“Extending online shopping privileges to all honorably discharged Veterans will directly improve family and support programs for Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guard members as well as their families,” Ward said in a news release. “Increased sales and earnings as a result of veterans online shopping benefit have the potential to generate tens of millions of dollars in additional dividends to Quality-of-Life programs.”
PXs date to 1895, when the War Department directed post commanders to establish an exchange at every possible military installation. Before that, soldiers needing nonissue items were at the mercy of itinerant bands of “sutler” merchants, who followed the army in covered wagons, often supplementing their appeal with alcohol, tobacco, gambling and prostitution.
How the program works
Who is eligible?
Any veteran with a discharge status of “honorable” or “general under honorable conditions.”
How can I prove I qualify?
Veterans may log onto VetVerify.org, which will match their name, Social Security number and birth date with DoD files.
What can I buy?
Almost anything you could purchase from a combined Sears/Army-Navy store.
When can I start shopping?
The service becomes available Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
How can I order?
Sources: Army and Air Force Exchange Service; Professional Bulletin of United States Army Logistics.