The Army & Air Force Exchange Service store at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. Credit: Courtesy / Army & Air Force Exchange Service

About 80,000 disabled veterans in San Antonio and millions more nationwide are now eligible to shop at the stores on military bases after a law passed in 2018 went into effect on Jan. 1, expanding in-person shopping privileges to include several new categories of veterans.

The Purple Heart and Disabled Veterans Equal Access Act opened up the exchange stores and commissaries to all Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, veterans with any level of service-connected disability, and caregivers of eligible veterans, said Julie Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service

“This benefit welcomes home our nation’s heroes to their military communities with tax-free shopping and military-exclusive pricing,” Mitchell said. “Being able to come to an installation to shop honors these veterans for their service and sacrifice.”

One of the benefits of shopping at the military stores is that all the merchandise is tax-free. Commissaries essentially operate as grocery stores for the military bases and are able to offer food to military families at significantly discounted prices. While the groceries are tax-free, a five percent fee is required to be added at the checkout to cover the cost of maintaining and improving the commissary buildings. 

The exchange stores, often referred to as the BX, base exchange, or PX, post exchange, are more like department stores, offering a wide variety of merchandise from jewelry and clothes to vacuum cleaners and guns. 

Previously, only veterans with 100 percent service-connected disabilities, active-duty military members and their dependents, and veterans who had retired after serving 20 years were eligible for the on-base shopping privileges, Mitchell said. The new law does not give access to all veterans, but all honorably discharged service members are able to shop at the exchange online, which is also tax-free.

The new rule also gives these veterans access to the morale, welfare, and recreation centers at military bases. Joint Base San Antonio’s recreational offerings include pools, aquatic centers, a golf course, and a bowling center. 

Alex Delgado, a spokesman with JBSA, said newly eligible veterans must have a Veterans Health Identification Card from the VA to gain entry to the base, and caregivers must present a letter of eligibility from the Department of Defense stating they are the approved caregiver of a qualifying veteran.

Delgado recommended that veterans and caregivers planning to shop on base come after 8:30 a.m. to avoid the early morning traffic that can cause backups at the entrance gates.

To learn more about how to access their new benefits, veterans can visit Details on the new benefits and who is eligible are available here.

Jennifer Norris has been working in journalism since 2005. She's a native Texan, but a new San Antonian who is excited to get to know the city.