Established by Public Law 79-636 on Aug. 7, 1946, Veterans Canteen Service (VCS) has been an integral part of the U.S. Veterans Administration (now known as the Department of Veterans Affairs) for nearly 75 years. VCS provides merchandise and services essential to the comfort and well-being of VA’s Veterans, their families and those who provide for their care in VA facilities.
The VCS PatriotStore in Lake Nona, Fla. displays military-themed merchandise.
Retail stores and commissaries for Veterans date back to the Veterans Health Administration’s origins as the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (NHDVS). NHDVS stores were operated by each of the National Homes and staffed by Veterans who lived there. By the mid-1940s, most canteens were operated by private, for-profit concessioners whose products and services were found to be “deficient” by Veterans and Veterans organizations. Seeing the need to improve the canteens, Gen. Omar Bradley, then Administrator of the VA, introduced legislation leading to the creation of VCS.
In 1947, the first self-sustaining VCS canteens were staffed and activated at 119 of the 123 VA hospitals in operation. First-year sales exceeded $5 million. In 75 years, VCS has grown to over 200 locations, generating hundreds of millions in sales on a regular basis. What once were small stores in Quanset huts or tiny Medical Center gift shops are now modern retail stores, cafes, coffee shops and other convenient services. VCS sells tires via a phone-order service, and in 2018, VCS launched an online shopping site, ShopVCS.com.
The customer experience has changed dramatically since 1946. VCS now offers the technological advancements expected in shopping and dining in 2021, like tap-to-pay registers and cashless vending. With service hours expanded into evening and weekends, newly renovated stores with modern designs, and a focus on healthy food options, VCS has a different look and feel from 75 years ago.
While the many amenities and advances at VCS have improved services, it is the Canteen’s most essential service – providing for the comfort and well-being of America’s Veterans – that has made VCS a gem to VA for 75 years.
VCS operates like a nonprofit business, with revenues generated beyond operating costs going back to VA programs and organizations, improving the lives of Veterans. VCS has given back over $50 million to the National Rehabilitation Events, Beds for Vets, suicide prevention, Emergency Support and many more programs in the last five years. As it is the VCS mission, Veterans always come first.
VCS looks forward to another 75 years of serving America’s Heroes, rebuilding operations and overcoming the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As it has throughout its existence, VCS will continue to renew and improve operations to best meet the needs of the customers who support their local Canteens.
Along with the other vital components of VA, VCS will celebrate this major anniversary on Aug. 7, 2021. Share your VCS experiences on social media with the hashtag #VCS75.
OIF Veteran Brian Vorce is the public affairs officer for Veterans Canteen Service.