The PCS move is one of the most stressful military events primarily for two reasons: moving is stressful; and most members of the military do not know much about it. Service members especially. Here are some explanations and advice.
PCS stands for “Permanent Change of Station” move, and it applies when your service member’s new duty station is more than 50 miles away from his/her old duty station. Because you have no choice to accept the orders, the government is required to pay for the move.
There are three ways to execute a PCS move. The first is a government contract move, where your local TMO (Traffic Management Office) will verify your orders and contract a commercial moving company to pack, ship, and unpack your stuff. The second option is a Personally Procured Move, or PPM, allowing you to pack, ship, and unpack your own stuff-all for which the government pays you 95% percent of what it would cost them to contract a commercial mover. The third option is a combination move, where a part of your goods are moved by the government, and you move the remainder.
The government imposes a weight restriction on PCS moves based on rank and whether or not the service member has dependents, and will not pay for any weight moved by you above that restriction. For example, if you move 10,540 lbs by commercial mover (which the mover will determine), and your limit is 10,000 lbs, then you will be liable for whatever the government doesn’t pay-though for an extra 540 lbs, your liability will be small.
You can find the updated move weight allowances at TMO, or via a quick web search.
Covered here are the three main types of move–government contract, personally procured (do-it-yourself), and combination–as well as travel claims while moving, OCONUS (Outside CONtinental United States) moves, combining move with a service member’s leave, and finally initial moves and marriage.
GOVERNMENT CONTRACT MOVE
To procure this kind of move, you will have to visit TMO with a copy of your orders in hand. You can usually get orders online a month or two before you leave, and that is sufficient for TMO. All they’re going to do at that meeting is put you in their system and tell you to wait for a call from a commercial carrier.
The next thing that happens is a call from a carrier. If you don’t receive a call within a week of visiting TMO, then call TMO again and let them know you’ve been shafted. In any case, the commercial carrier that calls will be your point of contact for the rest of your move. You will set a packing and pick-up date (when your stuff gets packed and loaded), and contact them if you have any issues along the way, or when it comes to unloading your stuff at your new location.
The carrier will show up at your house and inventory your stuff prior to the packing date. They do this with a computer and it usually takes less than 30 minutes. That visit determines if they need two days to pack, or two days to load, or whatever. Then, on your packing date, they will come to your house and pack your goods for you. DO NOT pack anything yourself, unless you are willing to assume liability for any breakages. The best way to handle this part is to set aside those things you will travel with, and mark them clearly. Also identify your valuable goods and make sure you know their value-they will be packed and accounted for separately. Finally, separate and identify all professional gear of the service member, as those things don’t count for weight allowance. The moving company provides all packing material, and packs all of your items for moving.
DO NOT LET THE PACKERS LEAVE until all your items are packed. If they try to, don’t sign their paperwork and call the carrier while they are at your house. If they just leave, then call the carrier and complain. They are contracted by the government to pack and move everything, so don’t let them get away with a sloppy or incomplete job.
Once everything is packed, the movers will load your furniture and boxes. After they drive away, you have to account for everything left behind. Take it, leave it, throw it away-according to the movers, if you sign the paperwork then you attest that the movers did their job. At that point, they will drive your stuff to your new location (it’s not uncommon if they stop at other locations on the way; movers typically load more than one set of goods into a truck at a time).
Once they arrive, they will call the number you gave them on your contact information, and ask if you can accept delivery. If they can’t get a hold of you, they are required to wait 45 minutes for you to arrive. If you’re there already, then great. But it’s OK if you’re not. Many military families use their PCS move for a vacation. The movers will store your goods near your new location for up to 45 days. All you have to do is arrange a delivery date at your convenience.
Again, when they come to unload your stuff, know that they are required to unpack your stuff, assemble any furniture they pulled apart, place it the room of your choosing, and remove the packing material BEFORE THEY LEAVE. It’s ok if this takes two days. Make sure you supervise the unpacking and note any broken items. If you miss one or two, you can let the moving company know later.
PERSONALLY PROCURED MOVE (PPM)
You can move yourself. Ninety-five percent of the cost of moving can equate to several thousand dollars, depending on your weight of goods and distance of moves. If you choose this route, you must pack move, and unload your items yourself. But keep receipts for all expenses because the government will reimburse you for the following: renting trucks, trailers, and installing tow packages; purchasing boxes and packing material; and tolls and weight charges
To receive your money, you will have to weigh your moving vehicle empty AND full, from which they will determine the weight of your goods. All other expenses you must account for by receipts.
Generally speaking, you won’t be reimbursed until several weeks after you present all your paperwork at TMO on your new duty station. To offset the large out-of-pocket costs, you may request advanced travel payment.
This type of move works best if you are on a restricted timeline, and a commercial mover won’t be able to move you on time (something that happens occasionally when PCS orders are issued suddenly). Also, it may be a lucrative opportunity if you have the time and resources available, or a relatively small amount of personal items-if say, you have no children and live in a small apartment. Families may exercise this option and choose to use a low-cost moving service they procure themselves (such as PODS or other container-moving services), although the government won’t reimburse container rentals.
To procure this kind of move nowadays, you will sign up online. TMO should help you with any difficulties with the website.
Be warned that the government has moving companies bid for contracted moves, and that is the standard to which they will apply the 95% incentive. So odds are less than they were that you will make money if you hire your own moving company, though handling the packing yourself may increase those odds.
You may choose to use both the government contract option and the personally procured option for your move. In this scenario, you will arrange for a government-contracted commercial mover as described above, and have them ship whatever you’d like. You then move the rest via the personally procured option.
As with a standard PPM, you can be reimbursed for moving expenses, but you must keep receipts and get an empty and full registered weight reading of your moving vehicle.
The big thing to remember is that your weight allowance does not change. The sum total of weight of goods moved by the commercial mover and goods moved by you must not exceed your weight allowance. As an example, if your allowance is 10,000 lbs, and you have the movers ship 8,500 lbs of it, then the government will only reimburse up to 95% of the cost to move the remaining 1,500 lbs in your allowance.
This move option works best if you have large, expensive items or a lot of expensive items that you’d prefer to move yourself, or if you know you will exceed your weight allowance and you don’t want to have to pay a moving company after the fact. Also, if you have a pickup truck and you can easily move a bunch of items yourself, you may stand to gain some money this way. Just remember that “whatever you pack in your car” does not necessarily count as goods-the government is not responsible for moving the items you travel with, because that is covered in your travel entitlements.