Moving yourself and your family to another location for a job is something that happens across American life. Like most things, it is different for military servicemembers.
Unlike civilian companies, which you can leave if they insist upon a move, the military can order a service member to move. In exchange, though, the military also helps the move logistically, financially, and in all practical ways.
A Permanent Change of Station (PCS) can come to any servicemember at any time. Over 400,000 PCS orders are issued every year. A new station assignment typically lasts from 2-4 years.
If you receive such an order, you will be assigned to a new location. You will have an assigned time to report to your new station. In between, you will have to uproot yourself and your family from your current home. Fortunately, the military offers help with every step of the process.
What Is Included in a PCS Relocation Order?
The order you receive is important because of the information it tells you – where and when your new assignment is, how to proceed with your move – but also because you will need to show that order to obtain assistance and support from military offices dedicated to relocating personnel.
The order provides information about the location of the move, the process involved in making the move and the benefits you are entitled to in making the move.
Preparing for Relocation
Because a PCS relocation is a regular part of military life, it is a good idea to remain prepared for the possibility. That doesn’t mean keeping your clothes in suitcases, but it does mean managing your life so that you are organized and ready when the order comes.
One obstacle between you and a smooth PCS process is a lot of difficult-to-move possessions. Storing valuables and family heirlooms, or at least having a plan for long-term storage, can save you the chore of dealing with such matters when there are many other things to deal with.
Once you have received orders, there are deadlines to meet – for choosing a method of moving, for packing, for sorting out personal matters and for traveling to the new location.
Personal matters can include such tasks as getting out of an auto lease or registering your vehicle. There are provisions for that in the case of military personnel, just as there are provisions for canceling cable, internet, and phone contracts. These provisions are provided under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
Types of PCS
Different categories of PCS are required because of the vast reach and responsibility of the U.S. military.
For example, there are moves within the continental United States. These moves – throughout the 48 contiguous states – are referred to as “CONUS” moves.
Similarly, a move to a station overseas, including Hawaii, is considered an “OCONUS” PCS.
The actual move can be handled in several different ways. First, there is the basic Government Contract Move, in which the military handles all facets of moving the service member’s family and possessions.
Service members who want more control of the process may choose a Personally Procured Move – a PPM or, alternatively, a DITY or Do It Yourself Move.
Finally, there is a Combination Move, using the government’s resources for part of your move while retaining control of certain elements, such as precious family heirlooms or delicate items.
Don’t worry. You will not have to move to one of the planets revealed by the Webb Telescope. CONUS is simply military-speak for continental United States. So, if you are moving between locations in the lower 48 states, your possessions (and your family) can be moved via ground transportation.
Typically, you will be given a period of time to organize and execute the move. That could mean 10 days to report to your new station.
An overseas PCS is by definition more complicated. Crossing oceans, accounting for the requirements and limitations of a different country, all create hurdles. The military is responsible for assisting you in clearing those hurdles.
There are some possibly unexpected details. For example, your car and driver’s license may not conform to other countries’ standards. It may be wiser to store or sell your car and deal with transportation needs once you arrive in your new station.
Most other countries use different standards for electrical connections. It will be important to acquire adapters for your U.S.-compliant devices, or prepare to replace larger appliances rather than try to move them.
Personally Procured Move (PPM)
You may choose not to turn over to the government the details and logistics of your move. That involves limitations for the weight of your possessions, and loss of control of your personal belongings.
The Personally Procured Move (PPM) is also known by the more casual Do It Yourself (DITY) moniker. If such a move is practical for you, and if you don’t want to entrust your possessions to others, you may arrange everything yourself. Because you’re entitled to 95% of the rate the government pays its contract movers, you can pocket any savings you can find. You must provide receipts and proof of your possessions’ weight in order to be reimbursed.
The third option is simply a combination of the first two. You may allow the government contractors to pack and move your larger, more cumbersome possessions, while choosing to keep fragile or personal items closer to you with a privately hired moving company.
Bear in mind, your options may be affected by the nature of your PCS.
Retiring from the Military
The ultimate Permanent Change of Station is retirement from the military. Upon retirement, service members have one year to complete their final PCS move. That includes one year of storage at your last assigned station.
Retiring members have the same choices to make about the type of move they prefer. The government can handle all the details, or you can choose a Personally Procured Move or a partial move, which combines the two.
To request an extension of shipping rights beyond one year, for medical, training or educational reasons, you will need your Retirement orders, your DD214, and documentation of the reason you need the extension: information from a school, or from a doctor confirming your treatment.
Separating from Military Service
Calculations are different when you voluntarily separate from the military. The government typically will pay for a final PCS move from your last station to your original station or established home. If you want to move elsewhere, especially to a place that requires longer distances, you may have to pay for the difference in costs.
The formula for costs includes total weight of your possessions, factoring in limits determined by your rank and number of dependents, as well as the distance of the shipment.
Typically, you have six months for your final PCS move from the date of your final out.
Other Than Honorable Discharge
There are different kinds of discharge between honorable and dishonorable. Sometimes, the service will not accept continued service by a member for such reasons as failing to pass basic training, a reduction in need for a member’s service or individual specialty, or failure to pass a medical board.
To qualify for a PCS in cases other than honorable discharge, approval from the convening authority of your branch of the military is required.
Travel for Dependents
Dependents are entitled to one trip from their current home to the service member’s new duty station. This is true whether the PCS move is within the CONUS (domestic) or is OCONUS (overseas). OCONUS moves require providing the names and birthdates of all dependents traveling for the PCS.
Dependents are also entitled to a per diem based on the rate provided to the service member: 75% of the member’s rate for dependents 12 and older, 50% for dependents under age 12.
Under the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act, spouses are treated as residents of whatever state the service member is assigned to live in. This is helpful for tax purposes and other residency issues.
There are countless expenses related to any major move, including a Permanent Change of Station. The government attempts to cover as many likely expenses as possible with a menu of benefits and allowances. That menu changes with each type of PCS:
- With a CONUS move, you are typically allowed 10 days to report to your new location, and are entitled to a maximum of $290 per day in Temporary Living Expenses. This covers meals and lodging.
- In addition, you may be reimbursed for mileage if you drive yourself and your dependents. MALT – or Monetary Allowance in Lieu of Transportation – is paid on a per-mile basis when driving your own vehicle(s).
- For OCONUS moves – those outside the continental U.S. – you may receive Temporary Living Allowance (TLA) funds. TLA funds can cover up to 60 days of meals and lodging during an overseas move.
- A Dislocation Allowance, determined by rank and number of dependents, can help defray other expenses incurred during a PCS.
- The service member may choose to have dependents travel separately during a PCS. The member may be reimbursed for bus, rail or air travel based on the government’s cost for purchasing an airline ticket.
About The Author
Phil Sheridan writes about military benefits for Military Money. Phil spent over 30 years learning about labor negotiations, salary caps, stadium negotiations and a lot of other finance-related matters as a reporter and columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and ESPN.
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