Tips offered for a stress-free PCS move
WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii -- More than 40 million Americans -- about 14 percent of the population -- move every year. For many in the military, the next move will be coming soon. The summer is peak season for permanent change of station.
During this time, there will be about 225,000 Department of Defense and U.S. Coast Guard household goods shipments as service members and their families move from one duty station to the next.
Moving is always a stressful occasion, but according to James Jefferson, installation transportation officer, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii, the best way to make the process go more smoothly is to start early.
"Get to the travel office and book early," Jefferson said. "Make your appointment even if you aren't moving for another two or three months."
John Johnson, branch chief, Personal Property, Directorate Quality Assurance Division, Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, echoed Jefferson's advice.
"As soon as you receive your permanent change of station orders, you should start your move process," he said. "Requesting your pickup and delivery dates as soon as possible will ensure a better chance of getting the dates you want."
Especially important is making arrangements for your personally-owned vehicle.
"You are only allowed to ship one POV," Jefferson said. "You are better off shipping it early."
Online tools are also available.
For example, www.move.mil offers tips and videos about relocating, including the downloadable 28-page "It's Your Move" booklet.
Particularly useful is the Defense Personal Property Program, or DP3. This program was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Transportation Command, and the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command.
A major part of the DP3 mission involved the creation of the Defense Personal Property System. The DPS is an Internet-based system to manage DOD household goods moves. The system allows a Soldier to perform tasks such as getting a rough estimate of the weight of his personal property or filing a claim for lost or damaged goods. Customer satisfaction surveys are available to make it easier to find a reputable mover.
The www.move.mil website can also be used to self-counsel and submit an application online, instead of going to the transportation office. However, Jefferson said that this option is best for those with a great deal of experience with military moves.
"Ninety percent of people should probably still go to the office," he said.
Even those with plenty of Army moves under their belts still make potentially costly mistakes. One of the most common errors Soldiers make is forgetting to declare items related to their profession.
"You need to declare things relevant to your military service," Jefferson said. "Professional papers, trophies, plaques, books, manuals, gear -- all of these sorts of things need to be identified."
Declaring these items is important, as once they are classified as professional materials, they are no longer counted toward your weight allowance for shipping purposes. This could make a big difference if a shipment is getting close to being over the limit.
Another way to help avoid excess weight charges is to purge your home of unnecessary items. Right before a major move is the ideal time to get rid of things you no longer need, either by selling them or donating them to a charity.
A change of duty station always requires a decent amount of paperwork. Having all the correct forms and documents organized, current and ready will help make relocation that much easier. Security and medical clearances may need to be updated. If transferring overseas, be sure you have a valid marriage certificate and birth certificates for your no-fee passport. Paperwork for dependents is important as well.
"Ensure you have all the required documents that list your dependents, like copies of old PCS orders, command sponsorship orders and early return dependents orders," Johnson said.
It is also highly recommended that Soldiers and their families take the time to record video of the items to be shipped. This is vital in the event that something is lost or damaged and a claim needs to be filed. Preparing your own inventory list is also important, complete with receipts, appraisals and so on. This list should be kept separate from your actual shipment.
Relocating can be costly, so it is crucial to promptly and accurately file PCS travel vouchers to ensure receiving proper reimbursement. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service website, www.dfas.mil, offers information about vouchers and entitlements, including checklists and guidance to filling out and filing the required paperwork. Many Soldiers find their payments delayed due to errors such as failing to attach complete copies of their orders or not obtaining the proper signatures.
Besides the logistical challenges of relocation, moving can be a rough experience for Army families, especially children and teenagers. The website Military Youth on the Move at www.defenselink.mil/myom features advice for young family members on packing, saying goodbye, traveling and keeping in touch.
Changing duty stations is often challenging and stressful. However, by planning ahead, staying organized and taking advantage of the wide range of helpful tools available online, it is possible to have a fairly painless and trouble-free move.
"Plan early and relax later," Johnson said.