More Military Moves Could Happen in the Off-Season: Official

A summer military moving season report from families detailing delays and other widespread problems could push the military to spread permanent change of station (PCS) moves throughout the year, a military transportation official said.

Currently, the bulk of PCS moves -- 42 percent -- take place in a 14-week period over the summer, said Army Maj. David Dunn, a spokesman for U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), which oversees military moves.

But a truck driver shortage made this year's summer moving season extra challenging, he said. One way the command could ease some of the pressure is to reduce demand over the summer months, Dunn said.

"USTRANSCOM is working with the military services to reduce the peak demand by spreading out moves throughout the year," he said in a statement. "We are in the initial stages of working with the military services to determine if there is a way to decrease the summer volume."

Military moves are traditionally conducted over two peak seasons -- summer and December -- in part to coordinate with military kids' school vacations. The summer season also allows movers to take advantage of better weather.

But the 2018 summer moving season has been unusually challenging for USTRANSCOM as a combination of a national truck driver shortage, high move volume and new rules limiting how long drivers can stay on the road converged to burden the system.

Those problems may also be to blame for what has, at least anecdotally, been abnormally high levels of household good (HHG) breakage and loss.

Many military families have said the amount of loss and breakage they experienced in moves this summer was the worst they've ever seen. And an online petition asking military officials and lawmakers to hold moving companies accountable received almost 50,000 signatures between Aug. 24 and Aug. 29.

"If you are on the lucky side of things, your HHGs will arrive with a few scratches and maybe a broken bowl. However, most everyone ends up on the other side. Boxes will be unloaded smashed and torn, furniture will come off broken in multiple pieces, and other items will just go missing," Army spouse Megan Harless, who runs the Facebook page Military Spouse Chronicles, wrote in the petition. "Is it so much to ask our elected officials to step in and protect our service members from the headache and heartache during a PCS?"

Harless, who currently lives at Fort Eustis, Virginia, said she was inspired to author the petition after seeing friend after friend post to Facebook about the loss and breakage experienced this year during military moves.

"Seeing the number of people who have signed [the petition], the number of people on my post [and] people sharing their horror stories -- it just kind of really gives that support behind, 'Yes, this is a bad season,' " she said in an interview with Military.com. "It seems like every year it's getting worse and worse and worse, but eventually we have to hit the bottom."

It is a bigger problem than just missing or destroyed items, she said. The cost to replace or repair items typically exceeds reimbursement amounts.

"Within the last 2 years, the average claim has been around $10,000, with an average of only 50 to 60 percent of that being paid out," she wrote.

Harless gathered that data through social media posts asking military families for details on how much they claim versus what they receive. She said several hundred people responded to her questions.

Dunn said USTRANSCOM has no way to track whether household goods damage claims have increased this year because that process typically stays with the transportation providers.

"Service members coordinate directly with the Transportation Service Providers to settle damage claims," he said. "There is no mechanism in place to track claim payment amounts."

Officials with the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN), a military family advocacy network, said a survey conducted this summer showed that families typically pay more out of pocket to replace broken items than they are reimbursed.

“Moving gets expensive enough for military families. The added burden of paying to replace things that were lost or broken puts another layer of financial stress on families," said Shannon Razsadin, MFAN's executive director. "No one expects a perfect move, but we do expect that the people the armed forces entrusts with moving our families will do their best to take care of our belongings, some of which are irreplaceable due to personal and sentimental value."

Harless hopes the petition and signatures get the attention of someone who can make a change.

"You can tell it's no longer an issue at an isolated base or an isolated company. It's across the board with every branch and every moving company. It's at the point now that something needs to be done and something needs to happen," she said. "A lot of people have expressed they would love to have transparency with these companies. I think with whatever the repercussions or reprimands are with the companies, the families need to see that too."

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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