In the days following the Army’s decision to suspend travel in and out of the regions more heavily impacted by coronavirus, more and more soldiers and their families have found themselves without housing, vehicles or their personal items as their plans to make permanent change-of-station moves to and from Italy or Korea were put on hold.
With the Defense Department’s Thursday announcement that all PCS and temporary duty moves are on hold for the next 60 days, members of all four services are finding themselves in the same predicament, relying on emergency relief funds and unit-by-unit authorizations of per diem to cover their costs while they wait.
“We think that rather than moving back and forth, that you’re better protecting in place,” Joint Chiefs chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley told reporters on Thursday.
But the fallout includes troops and families who have packed up their lives, checked out of housing and were preparing to board planes to their new duty stations now suspended in place.
DoD’s policy guidance allows local commanders to make decisions about emergency housing, payments and other measures to make sure those troops have their shelter, clothing and other needs taken care of in the interim, Pentagon spokesman Chris Garver told Military Times.
Commanders are also allowed to make case-by-case exceptions to the no-travel rules, Milley said.
Now the department is turning its attention to moves within the contiguous United States, as cases continue to grow in force concentration areas like northwest Washington state, Georgia and southern California.
“We’re going to take a look at those in the coming days,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters.
Military families moving to and from locations around the world have many questions about their particular situations, as a result of the orders to “stop movement” for the next 60 days to areas that have been designated as having widespread transmission of the new coronavirus.
The restrictions are effective Friday, and affects all troops, civilian employees and family members, as outlined in a memo signed Wednesday by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.
Service members whose PCS is rapidly approaching should contact their chain of command immediately to find out if their move is covered by the stop movement order, according to officials at the U.S. Transportation Command. The stop movement order for PCS moves applies to areas designated as “Warning Level 3” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That warning level currently applies to South Korea, China, and more than two dozen countries in Europe.
It’s the beginning of the busy season for permanent change of station moves. Last year, some of the service branches started making an effort to issue PCS orders earlier, to give service members more lead time, which means a number of PCS orders are already in the works.
“If you’re PCSing overseas, March and April is the time you’re packing out and shipping vehicles. And if you have an earlier PCS, those items are already gone,” said Kelly Hruska, government relations director for the National Military Family Association. “What happens to those families?”
“If a service member has shipped their household goods, they should work with their chain of command to determine the status of their current orders and contact the local personal property to see what is possible, depending on the status of their shipment,” said Dave Dunn, spokesman for U.S. Transportation Command.
Hruska said she has sent a number of questions to DoD officials, including whether or not officials are considering using or extending allowances such as dislocation allowance (DLA), temporary lodging expense (TLE), and per diem to these families.
She also questioned what happens to service members and families who had already submitted their notices to their landlord that they want to terminate their lease.
Military Times has also submitted these questions, but information was not immediately available. Generally, service members should contact their landlord as soon as possible to explain the situation. The military legal assistance offices on base are also available for help in these situations.
Service members and families are in a variety of stages of PCS, so U.S. Transportation Command has issued some information related to the stop movements, on their move.mil website.
*For those who have confirmed that their PCS move is affected by the stop movement order, if the shipment hasn’t yet been awarded to a moving company, it will be put on hold pending further guidance. If the shipment has been awarded, but packing hasn’t yet begun, service members should contact their installation shipping office. Those officials will work with you and the mover to change moving dates.
*If the shipment has already been picked up, the service member should contact the shipping office to find out the status. It might be in storage in the local area, en route to the destination, or in storage near that destination. It’s not clear whether household goods could be rerouted to the service member at the current residence. But this stop movement order currently is for 60 days.
*If you’ve already dropped off your privately owned vehicle for shipment overseas and your PCS is being delayed, you should immediately contact your vehicle processing center. They can help retrieve vehicles, change appointments, and answer any questions.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.