All veterans may be able to shop in commissaries and exchanges in the future, if Defense Department officials are successful in pushing their proposal.

Officials have asked Congress to allow veterans who haven’t already earned the shopping benefit as retirees, as well as civilian employees, to be able to shop in the stores, said Stephanie Barna, special assistant to the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

The proposal would include an additional user fee of between 1 percent and 5 percent for those non-core groups to be able to shop in the commissary, she said. “But we think they’d still be getting an incredible deal. It also helps, even if only slightly, to distinguish them from our core group,” she said, speaking Thursday at a forum on Capitol Hill of the American Logistics Association.

It’s unlikely the change will happen this year, she said, as members of Congress wait to see how things settle out with commissaries during the reform efforts.

But officials will continue to push the idea. “It’s something that’s very important to us,” she said, “and it’s something I think ultimately we will achieve.”

An estimated 18 million veterans potentially could claim such a benefits, but not all of those live near military bases.

Currently, shopping privileges at brick-and-mortar commissaries and exchanges are limited to active duty, Guard and Reserve members; military retirees; Medal of Honor recipients and 100 percent disabled veterans, and their authorized family members.

In May, DoD extended commissary shopping privileges to commissary employees for the first time. In 2017, online exchange shopping privileges were extended to all honorably discharged veterans.

There have been efforts to expand shopping privileges to more disabled veterans for a number of years.

This year, a provision to allow Purple Heart recipients, veterans with service-connected disabilities, former prisoners of war, and caregivers of these veterans to shop at commissaries and exchanges, and to use morale, welfare and recreation facilities, has been included in the House version of the defense authorization bill. It is not included in the Senate version of the bill; lawmakers will decide whether to include it in the final bill.

“All of these people who fall into these categories are heroes, have given so much for our country above and beyond even what other service members have given. It’s important to recognize that,” said Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., who spoke at the forum. He and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., introduced the proposal.

“We can never do enough to repay them, but there’s always more that we can do,” Lipinski said.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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