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A soldier checks out at the Clear Creek Exchange on Fort Hood.

On Veterans Day 2017, the Department of Defense opened up online exchange service shopping privileges to all honorably discharged veterans.

Following up on that, DoD officials spoke before Congress in June and asked to give those same veterans the ability to shop at brick and mortar commissaries and exchanges at military installations as well in an effort to increase sales.

The House defense spending bill for 2019 includes language that would only give certain classes of veterans those shopping privileges, and not all honorably discharged veterans. Those classes include Purple Heart Medal recipients, former prisoners of war, veterans with service-connected disabilities and the caregivers of severely wounded veterans. The bill would also allow them to use all Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities as well.

The language is not included in the Senate version of the bill.

Currently, only active duty service members, members of the National Guard and Reserves, military retirees, Medal of Honor recipients, 100 percent disabled veterans and their families are authorized to use those services. In a June interview with Military Times, Stephanie Barna, special assistant to the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said all veterans — and civilian employees — should be authorized those benefits.

“It’s something that’s very important to us and it’s something I think ultimately we will achieve,” she said in the interview.

That position has not changed, even though DoD personnel cannot comment on pending legislation, said Jessica R. Maxwell, a spokeswoman from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, via email.

“While sales could possibly increase by opening commissaries to honorably discharged veterans, such sales would also increase the costs to sell these same items to the new patrons,” she said. “The increase in costs by allowing honorably discharged veterans to shop in the commissary is not expected to be offset by the incremental margin gained from those sales, nor would that margin reduce the current level of appropriated funding as it was intended.”

But some area veterans don’t think all honorably discharged veterans should have the same privileges available as those who gave more for their nation.

“I’m all about those certain classes getting the benefits, such as the Purple Heart Medal recipients and our POWs,” said Eddie Bell, a retired Army first sergeant from Copperas Cove. “They have gone above and beyond what other veterans who just did their time have done.”

Bell said he is also concerned that some veterans may have gotten into some shady businesses after their service and, while they served honorably, they could see the opportunity to bring practices such as drug dealing on to military installations.

“I’m not saying that some Purple Heart recipients or POWs may not be doing shady things, but they have a lot more to lose,” he said. “They are receiving certain benefits from the (Veterans Affairs), so they have a tendency to follow the rules.”

Gatesville resident Jason Olivar, a former Army cavalry scout, agreed. The combat veteran currently has a disability rating with the VA for service-connected disabilities.

“It will benefit the both sides economically,” he said. “We are still that small percentage of the U.S., where citizens outnumber the amount of veterans, so it wouldn’t hurt to have those veterans be able to shop your nearest (post exchange) and or commissary.”

It remains to be seen whether lawmakers in Congress will include any or all inclusions of privileges for honorably discharged veterans in the final bill. Until then, DoD continues to explore options that would reduce appropriations while maintaining the benefit, said Maxwell.

dbryant@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7554

dbryant@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7554

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