Trying to count your years as a military spouse is kind of like counting in dog years. The time seems like a normal passage, but the toll of military-specific events during that time actually compounds the span, making it seem like it’s actually longer than it really is, hence the dog year comparison. For the record, I am presently 497 years-old using this measure. But, I digress…
The event that prompted me to count this way is everyone’s favorite part of military life: The Permanent Change of Station Move. The PCS is, possibly, the primary fear of many of military families, outside of war.
At first, before the advent of social media, PCS moves were presented almost as urban legends. Military families were regaled with stories of broken items, missing items, entire crates of household goods lost in typhoons, but for many of us, it was always just a tale told by a friend of a friend who heard it from their mother’s sister’s son’s best friend’s cousin. It won’t happen to us, we told ourselves. Oh, but it does. And when we least expect it.
It’s a powerless feeling, watching the entire contents of your home be packed up and trucked away by strangers. We now know the stories floating out there aren’t urban legends, but are very much real. We know this because we have seen the unfiltered photos, and read the first-hand accounts, shared on the numerous military family social media outlets dedicated specifically to PCS topics. It happens, alright. And it happens to a LOT of people.
While every aspect of a PCS move cannot be controlled, the Department of Defense has made great strides in streamlining the process and improving accountability when things go wrong. It was just before our move from Tooele Army Depot, Utah, to Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, this past summer that several new initiatives were put into place. Some had been in the pipeline for a while, others were put into place due to COVID-19 (because PCSing wasn’t stressful enough without adding in a pandemic, right?).
I read the updates as they were released with cautious optimism, and for good reason. The move to Utah from the Pentagon in 2018 was not pleasant. Lots of damage. We received sofa cushions, but no frame to put them on. Many framed items shattered in transit and glass was everywhere and on everything. And then, there was the lone box handed to me with a sticker affixed to it. It was the number assigned to an antique side table from 1789. One word was written in all capital letters across the box: “DESTROYED.” I was not looking forward to another move.
As soon as we got orders, went to our local Transportation Office and scheduled the dates, and we downloaded the "Army PCS Moves" app free on our smartphones. This is a great app that streamlines all household goods resources and policies into one location, allowing customers to discover benefits to help them before, during, and after the PCS process. Having everything all in one place and easily accessible 24/7 was convenient and helpful when one of us had that late- night question pop in our heads.
The app is a solid companion to the more overarching DoD official Web page: www.move.mil, as well as the 888-645-6683 hotline number if the Quality Assurance specialist was unavailable to speak with when you had a concern. It did give me a sense of peace knowing I have a multitude of platforms to use in case I needed them, and that alone helped quell a lot of my pre-move anxiety.
My faith was buoyed when we talked with the Transportation Coordinator, who seemed to be on his game. One of the initiatives was to have 25 percent more quality assurance inspectors on site for pickup and delivery of goods, bringing the average up from 50 percent to 75 percent.
Our QA person was there each day at a random time to check in and see how the move was going. He didn’t just observe, but also asked questions of us and the movers, to make sure the process was understood by both parties. It was nice having that extra person there with a different perspective reviewing things – it definitely felt more “regulated” than prior moves.
It also gave me a better sense of security knowing the movers had background checks conducted before entering our home. While that doesn’t prevent crimes like theft from happening, you do have a better sense of the people handling your household goods.
Once our moving team had completed the packout, loaded the truck and waved goodbye, I tried my best to be positive and upbeat despite our dismal experience the PCS prior. We loaded up wagon-train style and embarked on a COVID-19 precaution-filled, three-day sojourn across Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Iowa, a route with “lots of rocks and corn,” according to my five year-old.
We finally reached historic Rock Island Arsenal smack dab in the middle of the mighty Mississippi River and were glad to settle in with an established bathroom location, as we were also in the middle of potty training our youngest when we moved. I am telling you – dog years, my friends.
Delivery day arrived and I did a little inner pep talk, had a lot of coffee, and readied myself for warfare with the movers. Imagine my surprise when they arrived on time and were friendly and efficient. We found all of our items accounted for and discovered only one major item sustained a tiny blemish.
It was a smooth move, literally and figuratively. I was thrilled beyond measure that, if we did wind up have to submit a claim, the timeline had been changed to 180 days to notify of an intent to file it if the shipment was done in the Defense Personal Property System, or DPS.
One of the really stressful things military families deal with, on top of even needing to a claim loss or damage in the first place, was the former 75-day limit to notify of a loss or damage intent claim. I proudly stand among the ranks of those who are NOT fast unpackers. I am a leisurely unpacker, and unless it is for the kitchen or bedrooms, all other boxes can wait patiently. It was a relief to not have to set that 75-day calendar countdown and tear through boxes like a crazy woman.
The clock is now ticking for the transportation providers, though. They are required to make a settlement offer for claims valued at $1,000 or less in 30 days and within 60 days for all claims valued at over $1,000. This is a much improved timeframe and truly helps the unfortunate families who DO suffer losses or damage and can’t wait months for settlement payouts.
While we didn’t take advantage of it, one other option that saw big changes was the choosing to move yourself and get reimbursed, referred to officially as the Personally Procured Move, or PPM (or the move formerly known as “the DITY”).
Many families I know have chosen this option, even when the reimbursement didn’t cover all of their move costs, as a way to have more visibility and accountability for their property. The new rules upped the reimbursement figures to 100% of the government constructive costs if they hire their own movers, or 95% if they undertake the whole move themselves.
If families choose this more “hands-on” experience in their move, it still doesn’t insulate them from things going missing or getting damaged, and there are also instances with this method which don’t allow recourse through a formal claims process. If you drop your brand new TV during the move moving it yourself, that’s on you.
There have been multiple news stories reporting military families whose trailers and rental trucks have been stolen, or the locks cut and contents disappearing on overnight stops en route to their new duty station. In those cases, there are measures that must be followed, such as properly filing a police report, in order to file a valid claim.
If you’ve hired your own movers, there must be specific language in the contract to protect your property in the event of loss or damage. These guidelines are clearly spelled out and will be provided by the local Transportation Office handling your move.
There are also a host of subset categories of military moving outside of the typical two discussed here, and your orders and your Transportation Office will be Step 1 in getting your ducks in a row to know what your move will entail, and all of the things you will need to know to make it as pain-free and as successful as possible. Once you have an idea of distance, load weights, and other pertinent factors, you can make an informed decision on the best move options for your family.
I have about 10 PCS moves under my belt at this juncture, and I can honestly say this last move by far was our best. The new guidelines established and the continued adjustments and tweaks to them seem to be making a difference for many. I still read the social media pages and cringe at the horror stories some share, but they are far less numerous than they used to be.
From the improvements relating to inconvenience claims, to having resources available 24/7 to find answers to questions we didn’t even know had, it’s nice to have answers when we need them. While not a perfect process, it certainly is much less painful than a root canal, and I would have said otherwise not too long ago. In all seriousness, the changes are good, and they are helping military families around the globe during really stressful times.
I think the biggest takeaway for me is knowing “the powers that be” making PCS policy are listening and taking action. These improvements are also potentially shaping up to have an unintended, but very welcome, consequence on the military spouse employment front, and I’ll be chatting about that in the coming weeks. Stay strong, my fellow MilSpouses. As we continually remind ourselves on our social media channels when something else adds a dog year to our beloved military lifestyle - you’ve got this!