PCS Move Problems: When Your Household Goods Are Damaged
When you get permanent change of station (PCS) orders for a new assignment, you’ll have to begin preparing to pack and ship your household.
The challenges of a PCS move include making sure some things aren’t packed and shipped (items you’ll travel with, your personal paperwork, passports, etc.) and making sure what is packed and shipped arrives at its destination in the same condition it left in.
Not everyone has good luck with their moves. Some experience damage to their household goods, some even complain of lost personal property. Is the servicemember expected to take the loss as a risk of having a military career?
No. When your personal property is lost or damaged in a PCS move, you have the ability to file for compensation. This article explains how it works.
Before Your Permanent Change of Station Move
There are important phases of a PCS move. Packing your house is one of those. Typically the homeowner should not personally pack the boxes as the moving company cannot be held liable for damage to the contents of self-packed items.
On Moving Day
When your movers arrive, they should pack and note all items, present you with a list of those packed items for your review and records, and your shipping container should be sealed to prevent tampering or theft. If you are PCSing to an overseas base, official seals for Customs may also be applied.
Be sure to check these seals on the other end before your boxes are unloaded–it is important to note any broken seals and document any damage or other issues with the shipping containers when they arrive.
What To Expect During Your PCS Move
Those PCSing to a stateside location likely take delivery of their household goods much sooner than those going from the U.S. to an overseas base or vice-versa. But some stateside moves may still require a bit of time for your items to arrive. If you’re PCSing from Texas to Ohio, for example, or from a California base to a North Carolina base.
Some household goods shipments may be delayed due to unexpected circumstances; a natural disaster, snowstorm, highway accidents, etc. Household goods being sent overseas typically travel by ship and you may be waiting 90 days or longer for your possessions to arrive. It is best to ask a representative at the gaining base’s Transportation Management Office or TMO what is typical.
Before Filing PCS Move Damage Claims
If your household goods containers or the items themselves are damaged in any way, fully document the damage including photos. You need a different form for the damage that was discovered at delivery than the form you complete if you discover damaged goods after the delivery is complete.
File an Itemized PCS Damage Claim
You cannot submit a generic claim for damaged goods; your claim must be itemized. Once complete, claims may be emailed or physically mailed depending on what is acceptable to the shipping company. The company, formally referred to as the Transportation Service Provider or TSP, must confirm your submission within 15 days.
In either case, DoD rules require you to provide your Transportation Service Provider (the movers) with a written notice within 180 days from the delivery date. You must file your actual claim within 9 months of delivery.
However, there is additional guidance from the Defense Personal Property Management Office regarding submission times. “Contact the TSP directly within 7 days from the last date they were at your residence” and be ready to submit a property damage claim form. After that, you are advised to conduct your own inspection in addition to one the TSP could schedule within 15 days after you notify them.
During such an inspection, the Defense Personal Property Management Office advises that you could be given a repair estimate (see below) or “the TSP may pay your claim upfront without an inspection being completed.”
Do Not Dispose Of Damaged Items
The damaged goods in your shipment must be preserved as proof of your claim but there is another reason to hang on to these items; the rules for PCS damage claims include giving the TSP an option to repair the goods instead of replacing them where feasible.
That is not always possible, but in cases where your items are not repairable or salvageable, the TSP is required to collect and dispose of them. Don’t throw the damaged items away!
PCS Damage Settlement Options
You have the option to file a formal claim and go through the channels required to process it, but you may be offered a quick claim settlement from the TSP which is typically capped at $1500 maximum. For quick claim settlements you may be paid within 5 days of the claim.
But accepting a quick claim does not prevent you from filing a more formal claim for damaged goods; you just cannot claim the same damaged items twice.
In the case of lost items, your TSP must initiate a “tracer action” designed to locate the goods before asking you to file a claim.
If you are not getting a quick claim, the TSP may send a representative to assess your claim and process it. According to Military OneSource, your TSP has 30 days to approve or deny a claim under $1,000 and you have seven days after notification to reply with a counter-offer.
In some cases household goods may be repairable; if this is an option the TSP has 20 days to get the repairs done and the item must be inspected within 45 days. In cases where the TSP does not accept liability for the damage, it has three business days to notify you in cases where your household goods have come out of non-temporary storage.
Settling PCS Claims
Your job after filing a PCS claim is to accept or reject the offer made by your TSP. If you accept, your settlement payment is typically given in 30 days. Do not feel pressured to accept any claim (including a quick settlement) if you aren’t fully satisfied with the outcome of your efforts.
If you choose NOT to accept a settlement, notify the Military Claims Officer (MCO) at your gaining base and ask how to proceed from there. You should also contact the MCO if the TSP does not communicate with you or you have not heard back from them in 30 days.
Contact your gaining base Transportation Management Office or TMO to get contact information for that base’s MCO.
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About the author
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.