Summer Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves are the things that keep families awake at night, wondering not only if their household goods will arrive in the timeframe they need, but if they’ll arrive in the shape they were originally packed. An exceptionally harried summer 2018 PCS season brought the signatures of over 102,000 service members and their families on a Change.org petition, and from their fingertips to the ears of Congress, changes are coming…sort of.
Moving, Moving, Moving…Trucks Kept Right On Moving
Surely you either moved this summer or knew someone who did. The interwebs were all aflutter over the horrible service family members suffered at the hands of various civilian moving companies that were assigned to care for and transport their household goods. You most likely heard what seemed like an excessive number of horror stories about lost or damaged goods (mold was a particular enemy this PCS season), and you may have even signed the Change.org petition that requested Congress give family members more accountability when it came to moving their lives.
The petition launched in August, and Army veteran and military spouse Megan Harless wrote about how money cannot replace things like antique hutches inherited from her grandmother or the missing footboard to a custom-made bed. She shared that discontinued wedding china smashed to bits can’t be easily replaced, and lost baby memories that never arrive are priceless. The companies who are responsible for the safe transition of those things should be more accountable, Harless asserted, and there was an echo of agreement from military families that could be heard all over the world.
As of this writing, 102,890 people have signed the petition, and this week, senior Army leaders said they’d be working extremely hard to put the horror of the 2018 PCS season in the past, never to be seen again.
Less Talk, More Action
At the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting, a panel for military family members gathered in Washington, D.C. A military spouse took the opportunity to ask Army Secretary Mark Esper, Command Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Daily and Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley exactly what the plans were when it came to addressing the “gross negligence” moving companies offered in what she claimed was “the worst moving season in a long time.”
The room, full of those who either knew of or suffered from the trauma of negligent moves firsthand, broke out in applause.
Army officials shared that the 2018 summer move schedule was one that was complicated due to a nationwide shortage of drivers and moving personnel. You most likely heard the horror stories of families being ready for their move, only to be called the day of and told there was no driver and things were changing. Or, there was no driver or personnel to move their items, so the delivery of household goods would be delayed until further notice. No big deal, right? Your kids love missing their bed, their toys, and their clothes and you have plenty of experience entertaining them in an empty house for weeks.
Esper said that he was aware of the problem this season, though, and had spoken with Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, as it seemed the Navy’s PCS move season was not so easy either. Esper said that Spencer was looking at ideas to help that had been offered by the industry and that they’re ones worth investigating to make a difference for service members and their families.
Some of the ideas included moving single service members during off-peak months in order to leave more availability for moving companies for families during the busiest season, which typically is May 31-September 4, according to the government. When the moving companies are taxed, particularly in areas with high-PCS volume changes, quality and satisfaction rates drop significantly. (You think?)
Esper said that he’d like to meet with the secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force shortly to talk about ideas that can benefit all service members across all branches. He also stresses that working together as a military service instead of individual branches will give more effectiveness and power in numbers when making changes. (Wait, does that sound like figuring out something that works better and making it happen for all service members? We might be on to something here.)
In August, U.S. Transportation Command officials said that they wanted to look at the services to spread moves out more through the year. Family advocacy groups (and families) are quick to say that this is not feasible among families as moving children while they are in school, and disrupting them from having normal schedules (as normal as a military kid can have, that is) is not preferable.
We’re Watching You
General Milley also said that he wants to hold civilian moving companies that hold families hostage, in essence, more accountable. He wants specific data for all companies that transparently list who is doing a great job and who is not. And, for those who are not, he wants to hold them fully accountable, financially or some other way.
Esper believes that transparency in the moving process is important as well. He believes that the military should get to the point where (at least in the Army) families will be able to see which companies have been warned or suspended for poor service. He believes that having that information in the open will do wonders in telling the companies that the services will no longer accept subpar service, and, if it is given, much like the Better Business Bureau does in the commercial sector, so will the military rate the companies for all to see. Esper believes that getting to this point will send a message to companies and improve service.
Still, this seems like what we’ve already (theoretically) been doing, and the problem has only gotten worse. Major Carla Gleason is a spokesperson for the Pentagon and said that the issues were from shortages of drivers and low unemployment rates that make it tough to find good labor. Additionally, she said that when assigning companies to move jobs, the formula used to assign is based 70 percent on customer satisfaction surveys and only 30 percent on the price. Those poorly graded companies either get suspended or dropped.
But the stuff still gets damaged, and lost, and stolen, and the families still pay the price, even months later as the system to claim compensation for damage is also flawed and can leave family members frustrated with the moving company’s ability to decline any wrong-doing and have so little accountability after.
Coming Soon to a Move Near You
Rear Admiral Peter Clark directs strategy, capabilities, policy, and logistics for U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois and said that this will end, as they are putting shifts in their own structures in place to help military members in moves. Clark said that there will be a change to the regulation that TRANSCOM oversees that will require more inspectors to help in moves, with the goal to have enough inspectors to visit at least half the homes that are being packed out on any move day.
And, beginning this December, all troops will be able to watch their household goods get packed into sealed crates unless there is a confirmed door-to-door delivery set up. Only moves OCONUS or ones with long-term storage had that option, but after a rash of moldy moves this season, now all members will.
Clark says that this will incur a cost, but he’s over watching a couple more pennies when families are so grossly underserved. As well, TRANSCOM is looking to replace the Defense Personal Property System (don’t everyone cry at once) with a more user-friendly option so families can organize their moves and file for claims much easier. Some families are nervous, as new things always seem to shake up the process in sometimes messier ways, but the system should be available to some movers in the 2019 summer season.
Clark also reiterates, though, that in order to best help military movers be satisfactory, military branches must look at spreading moves out over the year, to reduce heavy demand during the summer.
So there you go. Pick your poison. Keep your kids in school all year so you don’t have them crying their eyes out as they start their first day (again) on a random Tuesday in November (or February), or expect your stuff to be carefully taken care of and delivered in a timely fashion, the way it left your last house — sounds about right.
DITY move, anyone?
Photo Credits: Unsplash | Pixabay