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Commisary and Exchange Privileges

I have this notion I thrive when constantly facing or seeking out challenges despite the mental or physical toll. I concede the physical trials, such as scaling a mountain or running a marathon, are behind me. However, I have enough functioning gray matter remaining to accept and overcome the trials that provide depth and fulfillment to my days. One of these regularly occurring experiences is answering a very common, open-ended question… what benefits are available to me (a Veteran)?

One lesser-known benefit is access to Defense commissaries (aka. exchange, PX, BX, AAFES, MCX, NEX, or CGX). Veterans or service-members may be eligible if: you have a service-connected (S-C) disability rating with honorable discharge, or are retired from military service, or are a former prisoner of war (POW), or a member of the Reserves, or received a Purple Heart (PH) or the Medal of Honor (MoH). Certain family members, surviving spouses, or approved (by VA) primary family caregivers may also be eligible.

You must show proof of one of the above eligibility requirements through an ID card or other approved documentation to use the benefit. Each base or commissary may enforce unique verification and access policies. A Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC) is one such method of determining eligibility and gaining access to the commissary. Your VHIC, obtained through your preferred VA medical center, must be endorsed showing you are S-C, form POW, PH or MoH recipient. Please contact the base before your visit to determine their current base access policy.

While there might be some value in shopping at the commissary, the federal law allowing this benefit also requires charging a user fee when paying with debit or with credit card (shopper beware). There are also limited bases with commissaries or exchanges. According to Commissaries.com, there are no bases/ locations in Minnesota. Wisconsin has one at Fort McCoy (approx. 265 miles from Two Harbors). North Dakota has two, the closest being Grand Forks AFB (approx. 305 miles from TH). Locations can be found online at www.commissaries.com/store-locations-bystate

Please keep in mind eligibility to this benefit was set by the National Defense Authorization Act 2019. Identification cards are issued by either the Department of Defense or Department of Veterans Affairs. You are a guest when using this benefit, and your conduct should meet or exceed military standards.

Brad Anderson is the Lake County Veterans Service Officer and can be reached at 218.834.8326, or cvso@co.lake.mn.us

Karen Christianson is the Cook County Veterans Service Officer and can be reached at 218.387.3639, or karen.christianson@co.cook.mn.us  

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