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By Karen Jowers
Military Times Staff writer
Oct. 17, 2014 - 12:39PM

The tide may be turning in the effort to allow all honorably discharged veterans to shop at the online store operated by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.

“It appears there are no insurmountable hurdles,” said a source familiar with a meeting held Oct. 8 between Russell Beland, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for military manpower and personnel, and officials with the Navy Exchange Service Command, Marine Corps Exchange and AAFES.

In May, AAFES officials submitted a formal proposal to defense officials to allow all honorably discharged veterans to shop online at its exchange store only. The proposal does not extend to brick-and-mortar stores.

But concerns subsequently were raised in some quarters within the Defense Department that expanding the online access would lead to “benefit creep” — access for veterans to brick-and-mortar exchange stores and even to other quality-of-life benefits, sources said in August.

In the wake of the “very productive meeting” Oct. 8, officials from all three exchange services asked defense officials to delay the next meeting of the DoD Executive Resale Board for a couple of weeks to give them time to work on remaining issues, the source said.

That meeting was previously scheduled for early November. Information was not immediately available from defense officials confirming whether the meeting has been delayed.

About 90 percent of honorably discharged veterans left the service before qualifying for retirement, and thus don’t qualify for exchange shopping privileges. “Why not give them a modest benefit to honor their service?” said AAFES director Tom Shull, in a previous interview with Military Times. He noted that among this group are many veterans who have deployed four, five or more times to war in the post-9/11 era.

The profits that could be generated by this increased customer base would help the active-duty and retired community in several ways, Shull said, to improve the brick-and-mortar stores and also provide more funding to morale, welfare and recreation programs on military bases.

AAFES officials contend the decision could be made with a policy change. DoD’s examination of the idea will include a legal review to determine whether that is the case, or whether a change in law would be needed.

AAFES officials are also in ongoing discussions with the Veterans Affairs Department’s Veterans Canteen Service about sharing revenue if the proposal is accepted.

AAFES officials have unofficially relaunched the shopmyexchange.com website, providing more predictability for customers that items will be available; easier navigation; fewer clicks to checkout; and same-day shipping for many items.

The Navy Exchange also has officially relaunched its shopping website, myNavyExchange.com, but it’s not known whether NEXCOM also will seek to expand shopping privileges for veterans on its site.