Most troops moving to a new duty station will no longer be paying costs out of pocket, according to new guidance from the Department of Defense. Instead they will charge permanent change of station (PCS) expenses to an issued government travel credit card.
The card, given in the past to service members traveling on temporary duty assignments, allows users to charge government travel related expenses to the card instead of paying them out of their own pockets. Troops then file their expenses with their finance office and use that reimbursement to pay off the card.
The change allows for "smarter" travel for service members, Harvey Johnson, the director of the Defense Travel Management Office, said in a statement.
"We want to make sure that people still have it within their budget to continue to travel," he said, "but we've got to travel smarter, more efficiently and try to return money back to the Department of Defense."
Soldiers and Army civilians were directed in late July to start using the card for PCS expenses, according to Defense Department officials. The Marine Corps is in the process of implementing a similar policy and the Navy is running a pilot program on it, officials said. The Air Force already has the policy in place.
Using the card should reduce the financial burden PCS moves often put on service members, and eliminate the need for advance travel pay, or using a personal credit card to pay for moving expenses.
Requiring PCSing service members to use the card also comes with a big reward for the government, since the Defense Department receives cash rebates for money spent on the card, officials said. For example, a 5 percent increase in usage across the Defense Department generates an 11 percent rebate.
But some military family members who have already used the card during a PCS said that the advertised benefits are not necessarily what they seem. For example, if travel reimbursements filed by a service member are not processed by their local finance office before the card's bill is due, he is still responsible for paying it on time, whether the government gets him the money or not. And while a payment window extension can be requested, it is not guaranteed.
"When the credit card bill came due we had to pay it out of our pocket. Here it is close to three months after our PCS and we still haven't received a dime in reimbursement from the Air Force for our expenses," wrote Air Force spouse Jami Moore on the Military OneSource Facebook page, which recently advertised the change.
"The GTC card doesn't make a difference when a service member is forced to pay out of pocket for a move if they aren't reimbursed right away. Luckily we have savings, but others may be forced into a situation where they either have to buy food and risk getting paperwork for not paying their GTC card or pay their GTC card and not eat. And if you can't pay it, it goes on the service member's credit report."
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at Amy.Bushatz@military.com