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How to Qualify as a Veteran to Shop at an Exchange

Not all veterans are authorized to shop in exchanges on military bases base-exchanges, post exchanges, commissaries, and the like. Qualified veterans can shop in any of the four exchange systems, regardless of their service branch:

  • The Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES)

  • The Navy Exchange Service (NEXCOM)

  • The Marine Corps Exchange (MCX)

  • The Coast Guard Exchange (CGX)

Congress makes the laws concerning who can and can’t shop at military exchanges, commissaries, and other non-appropriated fund activities. However, there are numerous categories of military members, veterans, family members, and others who can enjoy the benefits of shopping on military installations.

Which veterans qualify to shop at an exchange?

Authorized customers must possess a military or dependent identification card. These are the same ID cards issued for other military benefits, including travel and Tricare. Customers who can have cards are current military members, certain veterans, and family members, including

  • Military members on active duty.

  • Members of the active (drilling) National Guard or reserves.

  • Retired active-duty members. Active-duty members can retire after performing at least 20 years of active-duty service.

  • Retired National Guard and Reserve members who are receiving retired pay. Members of the Guard and Reserve generally begin receiving retired pay at age 60.

  • Veterans who have received the Medal of Honor.

  • Honorably discharged veterans who have been rated as 100 percent disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) due to a service-related injury.

  • Dependents of those listed here. Dependents include a veteran’s spouse and children.

A spouse usually loses entitlement upon divorce, unless certain conditions are met, as explained in the section, "Former spouses of veterans that can shop at exchanges".

Children include the legitimate, adopted, stepchild, or illegitimate child of the member; illegitimate child of a spouse; or a ward. However, children lose entitlement when they marry, or at age 21, unless they are incapable of self-care. This is extended to age 23 for children who are full-time students.

It’s also possible to designate a father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, stepparent, or parent-by-adoption as a dependent, if the military member provides more than 50 percent of the relative’s support.

Most BXs (base-exchanges)and PXs (post-exchanges) allow authorized shoppers to be accompanied by a guest. Such guests may not make any purchases, however. All purchases must be made by the authorized customer.

Former spouses of veterans that can shop at exchanges

In most cases of divorce between a military member and his spouse, the nonmilitary spouse will lose his or her ID card and privileges when the divorce is final, with two exceptions, known as the “20/20/20” rule and the “10/20/10” rule.

Under the 20/20/20 rule, full benefits are extended to an unmarried former spouse when all the following conditions are met:

  • The couple had been married for at least 20 years

  • The member performed at least 20 years of service creditable for retired pay

  • There was at least a 20-year overlap of the marriage and the military service

With the 10/20/10 rule, the former spouse retains full benefits if the military member was discharged for domestic abuse and the following conditions are met:

  • The couple had been married for at least 10 years

  • The member performed at least 20 years of service creditable for retired pay

  • There was at least a 10-year overlap of the marriage and the military service

If the former spouse remarries, she loses her on-base shopping privileges. However, if she becomes widowed or divorces again, she regains the privileges.

Surviving family members of veterans that can shop at exchanges

Under certain conditions, surviving family members of deceased military personnel are authorized to retain their ID cards, and thereby their on-base shopping privileges. You qualify if you are a surviving dependent of any of the following:

  • Members who died while on active duty under orders that specified a period of duty of more than 30 days or members who died while in a retired-with-pay status.

  • National Guard and Reserve members who died from an injury or illness that happened or was aggravated while on active duty for a period of 30 days or less, on active duty for training, or on inactive-duty training, or while traveling to or from the place where the member was to perform, or performed, such duty.

  • National Guard and Reserve members who qualified for retirement and were receiving retirement pay.

  • National Guard and Reserve members who qualified for retirement, but weren’t receiving pay because they hadn’t reached age 60. Dependents of these veterans can receive ID cards and begin their on-base shopping privileges on or after the date on which the member would have been 60 years old had he survived.

  • Honorably discharged veterans rated by the VA as 100 percent disabled because of a service-connected injury or disease.

  • Medal of Honor recipients.

If you are a surviving spouse who has authorized privileges under one of these categories, you lose those privileges if you remarry. If you then become widowed or divorced, you regain your shopping privileges.

Other authorized shoppers of exchanges

Individual military base commanders can authorize other people to shop on-base, if they determine that the base shopping capabilities won’t be affected. Others who may be given shopping privileges include

  • Members in the Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP), waiting to ship out to basic training

  • Civilian employees of the military and Red Cross who are working overseas at U.S. military installations

  • Members of NATO and other allied forces who are stationed at U.S. military bases

  • Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadets in their last two years of training

  • United Seaman’s Service (USS) personnel in foreign countries

  • Dependents of anyone listed here (except DEP) when living in the same household

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