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Proposal Would Allow Military Families to Split Their PCS

Movers at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, load up a truck with household goods. Jose Ramirez/Air Force
Movers at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, load up a truck with household goods. Jose Ramirez/Air Force

Newly proposed legislation would allow service members and their families to move to a new duty station at different times while splitting their household goods shipment, giving the service member money for temporary lodging and letting the family receive a with-dependent housing allowance based on their current location, not the service member's assigned duty station.

Military families often choose to split their moves to avoid disrupting a child's school schedule or spouse's job. Currently, service members and their families can do so without special permission stateside, but must ship all their goods at once, pay temporary lodging expenses out of pocket and receive basic allowance for housing (BAH) at the rate for the new duty station. If they are living in base housing, they could also be forced to move out since their service member no longer is stationed at that location. If they want to move to the new duty station ahead of their service member, they may not be able to apply for housing until the date on their military move orders. To split an overseas move, service members must request a deferred move for the family and pay some expenses out of pocket. Approval of the request is not guaranteed.

The Military Family Stability Act, proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, would eliminate those extra costs and require the DoD to change PCS policies to allow families to stay behind or move ahead up to six months before or after their orders' report dates.

"What we're trying to do with the Military Family Stability Act is to make that strength of the military even stronger [and] recognize that there are times when the unanticipated change of duty post, the change that comes at just the wrong time for the family, isn't really that had to work out," Blunt said at a Tuesday press conference unveiling the bill. "Allowing someone to go earlier, allowing someone to stay back a little longer -- this makes a lot of sense, it is long overdue."

While some of the services currently have programs that cover some parts of the proposal, approval is not guaranteed and none of them fund temporary lodging for the service member. A key part of the proposed law would require the DoD to implement the new rule across all the services and give qualifying families an "expectation of approval," while still allowing the services to deny a request based on military need.

To qualify families would need to fit at least one of five categories or receive an exception. Spouses enrolled in an education program, families in the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), those with children in school, those caring for a sick family member or those whose service member is PCSing as an individual augmentee would all qualify.  

The DoD has already pushed back on the proposal because of potential costs, said a staff member in Blunt's office who declined to be identified. While the Congressional Budget Office is still working on a cost estimate, the staffer said, the Senator believes the costs will be manageable because not every family will use the program, and most who do won't use the full six months.

"It's the senator's view that the department has made some hasty assumptions about how the legislation will be implemented," the staffer said. "The bill will likely cost some money, and we'll need to find an offset."

Defense Department officials declined to comment on pending legislation. The bill will likely be rolled into the annual National Defense Authorization Act for 2017.

The proposal has the backing of a variety of military support organizations, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Military family support officials said they welcome the change.

"It offers families some flexibility and hopefully it helps send the message to the services that allowing this flexibility is important, especially to retention of service members and their families," said Kelly Hruska, government relations director for the National Military Family Association.

"Family members can't always just pick up and move when the military tells them to pick up," said Karen Golden, a deputy director for government relations at the Military Officers Association of America. "Retaining the best and the brightest means knowing they come with families."

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com

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