Service-connected disabled veterans enjoy lifetime access to the Commissary, seen in this 2017 file photo, and the Exchange on Fort Belvoir.

The Army & Air Force Exchange Service is celebrating the first anniversary of welcoming home 4.1 million service-connected disabled Veterans to their lifelong, in-store shopping benefit.

The new privilege, which launched Jan. 1, 2020, was specified in the Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act of 2018, included in the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.

“Welcoming home service-connected disabled Veterans with a lifelong Exchange benefit has been a bright spot during 2020,” said Exchange Director/CEO Tom Shull, a Vietnam-era Army Veteran. “Our Nation’s heroes fought for us and deserve this benefit-and the Exchange is privileged to take care of disabled Veterans through the in-person shopping benefit.”

In-person shopping at military exchanges, commissaries and morale, welfare and recreation retail facilities on U.S. military installations was expanded to:

• All Veterans with service-connected disabilities

• Purple Heart recipients

• Former prisoners of war

• Primary family caregivers for Veterans who are enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers

“The Fort Belvoir Exchange team has welcomed home service-connected disabled Veterans with open arms,” said Fort Belvoir Exchange General Manager JoAnne Cahalan. “These shoppers have a vital place in our community. It has been a privilege to serve these heroes with safe, sanitized and secure shopping.”

Before the expansion, only Veterans with 100% service-connected disabilities could shop in person. (Active-duty Service members, their dependents and military retirees also have in-store and online privileges.)

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Exchange is providing a safe and secure shopping experience. Protecting the force and the military community is AAFES’s top priority. Contactless shopping options, including curbside pickup and ordering at ShopMyExchange.com, are available to Veterans with service-connected disabilities. Buy online, pickup in store service and restaurant carryout are available as well.

In Exchange stores, acrylic shields have been installed at checkout, floor decals and signage remind shoppers about maintaining physical distance, and hand sanitizer stations are readily available. Associates and shoppers adhere to Department of Defense guidance on the wearing of cloth face coverings.

By shopping the Exchange, Veterans also help those who wear the uniform today. 100% of Exchange earnings are reinvested in the military community, including though dividends to Quality-of-Life programs such as Child, Youth and School Services; Armed Forces Recreation Centers; and more.

For more information about the in-store patronage expansion, visit the Veterans section, Exchange Community Hub at https://publicaffairs-sme.com/Community/veterans.