The COVID pandemic has left even the most experienced military families more frustrated at the lack of a holistic solution to their housing and moving issues.
The pandemic has created the perfect storm — a lack of affordable housing and a strained transportation industry. But no one is steering the PCS ship.
“This is one of those gaps in the DOD enterprise. We don’t have relocation specialists,” said Rick Marsh, director of the Personal Property Program with TRANSCOM (Transportation Command) in a webinar recently held by PCSGrades. “We have travel folks, we have transportation folks, but there is no good place for the whole discussion on relocation,” Marsh continued. Organizations like PCSGrades hope to bridge the gap by bringing the decision-makers to the people they serve.
Military moving issues
Furniture gets lost and broken. Household goods are packed into moving trucks, moved into storage, back onto a truck, and headed towards their final destination because there is a wood shortage making “crating” a luxury reserved for overseas moves.
“They packed up our stuff on a Thursday, Friday took it off into the crates, and on Monday morning we were notified that that company went out of business,” said Navy spouse Mary Bouras, who is waiting to join her active-duty husband in Naples, Italy.
In addition to being told that her belongings were in the hands of a company that no longer was in business, Bouras has been living out of a hotel for nearly two months while waiting for a visa.
“We didn’t know how long this is going to take, so we can’t negotiate a short-term lease. Is it today? Is it tomorrow? Nobody can tell us.”
The housing office doesn’t own her process and neither does the transportation office, leaving her to reach out to Congress to remedy her PCS issues.
Military housing issues
The perfect PCS storm has also touched down in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Not only is there a lack of safe housing due to 2018 hurricane damage, but also a lack of communication.
“Instead of telling me, ‘that’s never going to happen,’ they send you the previous year’s [housing wait time] data. So, you have to make the decision yourself,” said Navy spouse Tricia Ross.
Ross was given an estimated move-in date of mid-July prior to PCSing from California.
“I understand why they do it, but I don’t feel like they guided us in the right direction,” she said.
Because the civilian housing market is also extremely limited, the Rosses now expect to pay out of pocket to cover hotel costs for their family of six as they wait the estimated six to eight months for housing.
This type of miscommunication predates COVID. In 2018 Becca Kofonow moved from Japan to San Diego to get settled before the school year and was astounded when she was told, “we absolutely cannot let you apply for housing until your husband is physically in San Diego.” Despite having been told they had prior approval to move in advance of her active duty spouse, she was forced to pay out of pocket for her six-week hotel stay, totaling nearly $7,000 before being eligible to be added to the waitlist. Her son had to start at a different school or face truancy claims.
“The person I was speaking to was new and either was looking at old information or just didn’t grasp the entire situation,” said Kofonow. “When I finally spoke to higher up people they were like, ‘Absolutely not.’”
Unfortunately, these well-intentioned PCS contacts can cost families thousands when they make a mistake that leads families to base their PCS decisions on their “expert” advice.
DOD has answers to PCS problems
Despite what many may think, there are payments intended to help families defray out-of-pocket costs. One of those options is something called inconvenience claims. These claims cover:
- When the assigned moving company fails to pick up a shipment on agreed-upon dates at origin.
- When the assigned moving company fails to deliver the shipment on or before the Required Delivery Date at destination.
- When a shipment placed in storage in transit cannot be delivered within five to 10 government business days of the customers’ requested delivery.
But inconvenience claims may be only as worthwhile as the office handling them.
“They never explained what that was,” said Navy spouse E’Beth Goad. “You get to one person, and they say oh that’s not my department, I’ll transfer you. There’s a lot of handing off.”
Additionally, inconvenience claims do not always cover post-COVID housing availability or expediting visa delays. Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA) or Dislocation Allowance (DLA) and Temporary Lodging Expense (TLE) are intended to cover PCS costs. Unfortunately, TLE only covers up to 10 days in a hotel before transitioning over to the local BAH rate.
For many families, this housing allowance does not cover the out-of-pocket costs required to pay for long-term hotel stays. In high-cost areas these nightly fees can range upwards of $200 per night for a family of four with pets. This doesn’t include the costs associated with having to eat many meals without the benefit of a kitchen.
“We can’t solve the housing crisis,” said Marsh. “But we can work closely with industry to get access to as much capacity as possible. We can adjust rules to make them as common sense as possible to help families.”
As tempting as a one-stop DOD PCS shop may be, leadership may need to think outside the box for solutions. Because of the limitations placed on large organizations like the military, “a lot of times we wind up with a 1-800 number,” said PCSGrades Founder and Executive Director Todd Ernst.
“We’re not reliant on the government. We’re not reliant on outside companies. We’re relying on each other.” PCSGrades leverages crowdsourcing with high-level relationships in order to promote positive PCS change.
Despite the availability of solutions, many families feel unheard. The DOD points to installations and service providers, but if those groups do not adhere to DOD best practices, families may not know there are solutions to their problems and are still left wondering, ‘Who will close this PCS service gap?’
Contact your Transportation Office: https://move.mil/resources/locator-maps?fbclid=IwAR1VImPGw5U0hRWWJXC5d14tiFujRHjhgsqAAZM5wNWI-9U-wVxQ-mGWUmU
Contact Transcom: https://www.ustranscom.mil
Contact James Marsh: James.firstname.lastname@example.org