Veterans Canteen ServiceUpdated: May 10, 2020
Some veterans have no trouble doing routine errands; going to the store is just one chore many take for granted in terms of getting the trip done.
There are many product delivery, grocery delivery, curbside pickup, and carry-out food delivery services today; Instacart, GrubHub, and DoorDash are just a few of the delivery services, and most chains such as HiVee, Aldi, and others offer order-ahead services for in-person pickup at curbside or briefly in-store.
All of these things are retail innovations to satisfy customer demand for additional options to help avoid wandering store aisles, surrounded by people, all jostling and competing for space in crowded shops. But compared to something called the Veterans Canteen Service, these services are literally the new kids on the block.
The Veterans Canteen Service (VCS)
VCS got its official start in 1946, designed to help veterans in the VA healthcare system including patients, care providers, and visitors. As you can imagine, this service began as a “hospital shop” type operation that likely behaved a lot like an ordinary hospital convenience store.
Those with extended stay in a VA medical care situation will have their own needs such shops can help address, but also their visitors and care providers.
VCS: Self-Sufficient And Not Taxpayer-Funded
There are some 4,000 VCS workers providing retail services, food service, coffee, vending, and more for VA medical centers across the United States. But that work force and the cost of operating these facilities is not borne by the taxpayer; the VA says VCS is self-sustaining and does not benefit from appropriated funds.
What’s more, profits from VCS operations is funneled back into national programs such as the Fisher House, programs for homeless vets, VA National Rehabilitation events, and more.
With more than 70 years of service on the clock, VCS has evolved with the times and today offers online shopping for a variety of goods and services including “order-ahead pick-up program for bulk grocery items like frozen meats, and prepared meals to take home,” according to the official site. It’s not just in-hospital needs anymore.
Because this program began in a patient-focused way, it’s easy to assume that VCS options are only for those who need care in VA facilities. Is this today’s reality?
What VCS Programs Offer
VCS Patriot Stores
There are some 200 VCS Patriot Stores around the United States; these are installed in VA facilities and offer many convenience store-type offerings including clothing, gifts, and food. These shops have expanded their options in many locations to include staple groceries for customers to order in advance for in-person pickup (see VCS Groceries, below).
The VA official site encourages vets and their families to check with your nearest VA Patriot Store “for basic and essential items from grocery to household.”
The Veterans Canteen Service option called VCS Groceries makes certain staples including meat, eggs, frozen food and other necessities available for ordering ahead of time to pick up in person.
VCS Groceries is a service available from one of hundreds of VA Patriot Store locations around the USA. See below for instructions on how to locate the nearest VCS operation to you.
The Patriot Cafe
Described on the VA official site as the “best place in the VA Medical Center to enjoy delicious, freshly prepared breakfast or lunch served hot or cold each weekday.” This in-house service isn’t limited to walk-in/dine-in service. You can order carry-out catering from the Patriot Cafe, too.
This option is offered only in catering-sized portions. A garden salad for just under $10 feeds 8-10 people. Ditto for baked beans and rice pilaf, selling for roughly $12-14 per menu choice, and feeding 12-15. This type of catering also includes take-and-bake pizzas individually priced and options that may vary depending on location.
Not all Patriot Cafes offer catering; ask the location nearest you what your choices might be (see below for instructions on finding your nearest VA facility with a Patriot Cafe).
Shop VCS Online
You can shop online to take advantage of Veteran Canteen Service offerings and discounts. Like other online retail shops such as Amazon.com or the Apple App Store, you will be required to create an account, login, etc. to shop. You are required to be a veteran enrolled in the VA healthcare system to register.
This shop features retail items from companies including but not limited to:
- Phillip’s Flowers
- American Classics
- Pearl Jewelry
- Grunt Style
- The North Face
- Hamilton Beach
- Sony Playstation
- 1800 Flowers
Some readers will notice there are no food vendors included in this list. The online shop does not offer foods and if you are interested in pre-ordering grocery items, you’ll need to contact the Veterans Canteen Service physically nearest you to learn what options are open to you.
How To Find A Veterans Canteen Service Shop Near You
Go to the VA official site to use the VA search tool for a Veterans Canteen Service near you. Not all cities have a VCS operation, but those that do are listed in the search tool page. You can search using a map, or scroll down to your state and city.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News