There are things you can do in advance of a PCS to prepare for and mitigate all the potential mishaps that happen while relocating to avoid filing a PCS claim at all. This is not that advice.
Instead, let's focus on what to do when things don't go well. Because, let's face it, with the sheer volume of moves that happen every year your household goods (HHG) shipment will likely arrive with at least some damage.
Good news: your stuff is insured up to it's Full Replacement Value (FRV) when moving with the military. That means if your stuff is proven lost or damaged, the Transportation Service Provider (TSP), or moving company, is required to replace it with a "like" item. The replacement could be a new or used version of what they broke, or they can also repair the item. That all sounds great in theory, but please remember the burden of proving the item's condition, or existence, before the move is up to you.
There are several steps between seeing a splintered armoire and receiving reimbursement, but it's important to document and claim damages as they occur. Not only do military families deserve to own nice things, but we should reasonably expect our things to be treated well. With only about 30-35% of service members filling out the customer satisfaction surveys, claims payouts can offer another data point in performance evaluations for carriers.
Filing a claim is tedious, yes. But it can mostly be done digitally through the Defense Personal Property System.
DPS is the digital portal where all the magic happens. It is how you have been managing your move all along, so you should be familiar with this site by now.
Filing a PCS Claim: Inspecting the Damage
The claims process begins soon as your stuff starts coming off the truck. Inspect large items closely as soon as they're unwrapped. Make sure large electronics (TVs) turn on and the screens aren't cracked. Check upholstered furniture for rips and mold if it's been in storage. Look over wooden pieces for scratches, dents or broken legs. If you don't see any damage -- fantastic! Commend those movers.
But, if you do, go ahead and start taking photos right there on the yard or driveway and in broad daylight. Ask the driver for a Notification of Loss AT Delivery form that you can both sign and file right then and there. Trust me, this will save you time in the end.
You aren't limited to the day of delivery to inspect all your things, so don't panic or rush. This is really just for the big, obvious or missing stuff. You actually have 75 days from the day of delivery to make your first official claim-related move.
Completing this step: Grab the Notification of Loss AT Delivery form from the driver that you'll both sign, then you can upload this document to the Defense Personal Property System (DPS).
Optional: File a PCS Claim Loss & Damage Report
As you're unpacking and getting reacquainted with your things, start to gather up the items you'll want to claim as damaged, and notate what's missing if that's the case. By filling out a Loss and Damage Report, you're signaling to the carrier (TSP) that you intend to file a claim later on. It's basically a "heads-up" and buys you a little more time to file your claim with the TSP. Your deadline for this step is 75 days from the day of delivery.
The Loss & Damage Report step is optional, but highly recommended. If you file the Loss & Damage Report, your next deadline for a claim extends out to 9 months from the date of delivery. If you skip it, you must submit your full claim before 75 days from delivery.
Completing this step: Log in to DPS and click the "Start Loss and Damage Report" button. You'll need to select your shipment and input information about the items you will be including on your claim (item, model number, description of damage, estimated replacement value/cost to repair and photos). You will have the opportunity to import all of this over to a claim later on, so go crazy with the descriptions and attachments.
Filing a PCS Claim
If you filed a Loss and Damage Report, this next part should be fairly straight forward.
Moving and getting settled into a new place is chaotic, and you may have bigger things to worry about for the first couple of months. The good news is that you have up to 9 months from the day of delivery to file your actual claim with the TSP. The claim should be itemized and highly detailed with as many photos, videos, receipts and documents as possible to help make your case. If you're claiming full replacement value, be sure to include proof of how much replacing the item would cost with a print out or hyperlink to the website. Don't try to game the system here, folks. You can't claim the Full Replacement Value (FRV) for an Ikea bookcase at Restoration Hardware prices. Also, don't be that guy claiming the FRV of trash at $1 million dollars. It's funny, but ridiculous.
You can also jump right to this step if you're just that organized, but if you skip the Loss & Damage Report you need to file this claim in full by the 75 day mark.
Completing this step: Log in to DPS and click the "Start a Claim" button. You'll be prompted to import the info from your Loss and Damage Report, which is helpful, but be sure to edit the items to include additional information or supporting evidence.
Receiving a PCS Claim Response From The TSP
The TSP has 60 days from the time you submit your claim to respond. They can offer to pay your claim in full (unlikely), deny your claim or make you an offer somewhere in between. Sometimes an offer can look like sending a repair person out to restore an item, which can be a great solution so stay open to that!
Keep in mind that this is a negotiation. You have every right to appeal and counter their offer if you feel it's too far off. Your claim could settle quickly, or it could drag on for quite some time. You can also accept offers on individual items on the claim, and yet keep others open for further discussion.
Completing this step: Log in to DPS and click "View My Claim" from the main screen. Here you can check on the status of the claim during the 60 day response window, and also view the itemized offers in response to your claims. Accept what you find reasonable, and communicate with the TSP which offers you'd like to counter.
Taking Further Action
If you are having problems with this process or you and your TSP fail to reach a settlement, you can elevate the claim to the Military Claims Office (MCO) and they will adjudicate on your behalf. This should be viewed as a last ditch effort, but is available to you as an option. You can also reach out to the MCO for help with partial replacement value if you discover damage or loss that wasn't claimed before the 75 day deadline (and up to two years from your move).
Kellie Artis is the COO of MILLIE, a startup committed to alleviating the stress of frequent relocations for military families. MILLIE connects members of the military and their families with specialized knowledge and trusted resource providers to support each step of a PCS. Check out MILLIE's Installation Guides, network of veteran and military spouse real estate agents, and MILLIE Scouts, an on-demand task service network comprised of military spouses.
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