You’ve likely heard plenty of PCS horror stories. It goes something like this:
Dozens of containers, with military household goods, fall off a container ship, sinking to the bottom of the ocean.
A moving and storage company auctions off military member’s items in non-temporary storage.
Movers lose control of an heirloom grand piano on casters, and it ends up smashed to oblivion.
The examples mentioned are PCS nightmares from the days before a packout. But for some military families, these PCS nightmares are more than fictional tales. And for many of them, having renter’s insurance — while it doesn’t make the situation any easier to stomach — is a financial lifesaver.
Imagine your shipment burning up in a fiery crash. Unfortunately, this scenario was a reality for Jenn Coates. It happened to her express shipment.
Her family was relocating from Norfolk, Virginia, to Japan in the fall of 2014.
The Coates family packed up their belongings in mid-October, a few weeks before heading across the ocean themselves. The plan was for the shipment to arrive in Japan before they did.
As most military families know, things don’t always go according to plan.
After arriving at their new duty station, the family checked in with the Personal Property Office on base several times for updates on the progress of their shipment.
“They kept saying, ‘It’s still in transit,’” Coates said.
Finally, in December, she got an update.
“I got an email from Personal Property in the U.S. — and it said our shipment had been destroyed. My stomach sunk. I was frozen. I thought, ‘How could this happen?’”
The email went on to explain that the truck with the Coates’ shipment was in a fiery crash in Georgia. The accident happened in October, just days after their packout.
“Mid-December, and we were just hearing about it. It turns out, our belongings never even made it to California to be put on a ship. They certainly weren’t stuck in transit,” Coates said.
After the fact, the Coates family was told they should have been notified within 48 hours that their shipment was destroyed.
Cribs, clothes, toys, dress uniforms, flight suits, aviation manuals, and flight logs were among the items scorched in the crash.
“Two months after it happened, I saw the pictures taken from the side of the road. I could tell I didn’t want those things back because everything had been doused in fire retardant spray,” Coates said.
The Personal Property Office in Japan cut the family a check for incidentals and things they needed to replace right away, and their renter’s insurance policy took care of the rest.
“It made me realize more than I ever had how important it is to make sure you’re covered. It didn’t dawn on me that this moving catastrophe would fall under renter’s insurance. We weren’t renting, we were in transit,” she said.
Read: Should military families get travel insurance for their next getaway.
Alejandra Fernandez-Rubio has a horror story of her own. She has no trouble remembering the date it happened, as it was on her wedding anniversary.
“We were moving from Fort Stewart to Fort Leonard Wood. We knew we’d be there less than six months, as it was for training,” she said.
The couple hung on to the basics, taking everything with them they’d need to get by for six months.
“After a long day of driving, we stopped in a hotel for the night in St. Louis. In hindsight we were only two hours away, so we probably should have just continued on to post,” Fernandez-Rubio said.
They parked their SUV and U-Haul in the hotel lot, and that evening they got a call from their friend who was also moving and traveling with them.
“She was taking her dog out, and she noticed a couple of people breaking into our SUV. She called us, and I watched from the window, calling the police, and my husband ran down to the parking lot while they stole suitcases and bags,” said Fernandez-Rubio.
Unfortunately, the thieves who were parked in a lot next door to the hotel, got away.
“They stole more than $12,000 worth. Computers, jewelry, clothes, uniforms, even our passports,” she added.
The first call was to the police — the second, to their insurance company.
“We filled out the forms listing the stolen items, the value, purchase date, etc. They covered more or less everything we asked for and paid us back what we thought was a really fair amount,” she explained.
This, after nearly canceling the policy before their move.
“We got so lucky. I was bugging my husband to cancel the insurance when we moved out of our house because I thought we could save a few bucks. When my husband called to do that, the woman he spoke to at our insurance company strongly advised him not to do that,” said Fernandez-Rubio.
The decision to remain covered saved them thousands of dollars.
“It was a learning experience,” she added. “You don’t think about those in-between times.”
Insurance agent and financial advisor Regina K. Leigh, spouse of a military retiree, agrees.
“So many people don’t see the value in renter’s insurance because they don’t know what it covers,” Leigh said.
She advises calling your insurance company every time you experience a major life event to discuss what changes you might need to make regarding insurance coverage.
“Whether it’s a marriage, the birth of a child, a death, a big purchase, or a move, it’s a good opportunity to talk to your agent. All of those things impact your financial situation and quite possibly your coverage.
“The last thing you want to learn is that you don’t have coverage when something happens,” Leigh said.
After all, a PCS is plenty to handle without a horror story of your own.