Filing a PCS claim was never part of my military move story. Growing up in a military family, my furniture has been PCSing since the 1940s.
This furniture has survived tours in Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada and all over the continental United States.
It has even survived a rather notable move from a third floor walk-up in a tiny New York City apartment to a house on stilts in North Carolina. And nothing was ever destroyed.
Never destroyed, that is, until this winter, when we made a fateful PCS to Florida and our furniture arrived in a thousand pieces.
Every table was broken. Bookshelves and dressers were smashed in ways that had you scratching your head wondering how, exactly, that kind of breakage could even be physically possible. Pride swallowed, I admitted defeat and stared at the wreckage.
So what do you do when the worst move in military history happens to you?
The answer is really easy -- you file a claim! When your household is in shambles around you, however, those four little words seem more daunting than trying to fix your furniture yourself with some Elmer's glue. Don't do that.
Instead, we talked to the experts. From spouses who have done it themselves to the folks at the DoD trying (truly) to help you through it, we have culled the best advice on how to start the claim and finish it, knowing you've done it right and confident you're getting a fair shake. Here's how:
Step One: Make friends with your move manager.
Who is your move manager? You may have forgotten your move manager already or failed to identify the guy in the first place.
The move manager is the person who called to coordinate the inspection of goods. Who let you know when your packers were leaving the facility and confirmed they've done their job.
The move manager is the person who updated you on whether your goods made it to their destination on time or where, if at all, they're going to be stored.
That person is your move manager. Move Guru, if you will. The move manager is going to be your new best friend.
"She is your point of contact for anything that goes wrong," says Jen, an Air Force wife currently navigating her 4th PCS. "We've had to file two claims for big damage already, and she was our starting point."
Because your move manager is your point person throughout the move, it's also a good idea to remember that he or she isn't the one physically packing your belongings. They aren't moving you, and they aren't responsible for the things that are broken.
But they deal with a lot of people who act like they are personally responsible for those things. So the secret is to be the bright spot in their day: Be cordial and be nice. It's a lot easier for them to help someone who isn't screaming in their telephone.
Notify your move manager ASAP that you're filing a claim, and he or she will connect you to the person who will be your adjuster. Then, obviously, be just as nice to your adjuster.
Step Two: Unpack in time.
Ask the internet how long you have to unpack your belongings and file your loss and damage report, and you're going to get a laundry list of answers, very few of them the same.
Here's the deal: From the moment they start unpacking the truck, you have 60 days to file your loss and damage report, which is the first piece of digital paper work you're going to fill out in your claim.
Sixty days isn't a long time, so if set a reasonable schedule to get unpacked in time.
Navy wife Dorita suggests dividing the number of boxes left to unpack by the number of days before the claim. "We had to unpack two boxes a day to do everything in time, and that was doable," she says. "I knew what I had to do every day to keep things on point, and it was easy."
Step Three: Document damage with a camera or phone.
It goes without saying, but your loss and damage report will require you to detail every bit of damage you claim.
Mercifully, the digital era makes this easy: Snap a picture with your phone or camera as you unpack:
- The outside of boxes that are damaged.
- The inside of boxes in which the way things are packed has caused damage (like a heavy kettle-bell on top of your grandmother's favorite bowl).
- Close-ups of any damaged items.
"Take pictures of everything you need to claim," encourages military wife Amy. "It will slow up the claims process if you don't."
A picture is worth a thousand words. Take as many as possible. The TSP system will allow you to upload as many as you want, and your adjuster may even ask for you to send more. Be vigilant with proof -- it will make the process easier for everybody.
Step Four: Fill Out Your Loss and Damage Report
To get started, you're going to fill out Form 1840 (Military.com has a great write up of exactly what that is.) You can also do that online here.
To fill out the loss and damage report online through TSP, you're going to need the following information for all the items you're claiming:
-- Name of manufacturer -- Basic description of item -- Cost of item at purchase -- Year of purchase -- Description of damage -- A financial claim for the damage
You'll also be allowed to upload photos of the described damage here, which will significantly augment your description.
The financial claim can be tough to gauge, though. There are a few good ways to go about this. For items that are completely destroyed, Google can be a great option.
"Google the value of your item so when you submit your claim, your price estimate is as close as possible," suggests military wife Michelle. "I have underpriced items that would have paid more."
If you're dealing with items that are broken and require repair, you can also ask your adjuster for the contact information of a local repair person who can help you get an estimate.
Your adjuster is really there to help you -- know that. In my Worst Military Move in Personal History, I was blessed with an amazing adjuster named Kevin who made the whole process a cinch.
Talking with Kevin wasn't like working with the bad guy out to keep my much-needed, furniture-fixing cash -- it was like talking to the friend who really wanted everything to work out well.
Your adjuster really does want everything to work out well. So as you make your claim, keep that in mind. It might be the single most important thing you do. Step 5. Import the loss and damage report and photos into a claim.
This is the easiest thing you're going to do in the whole claims process. TSP will allow you to simply import your loss and damage report into the claim, which technically you have a little longer to file than your actual loss and damage report, but once you've done one, there's no reason to wait on the other.
Getting everything done all at once is a huge help to the people on the other end trying to get things worked out for you.
Once your claim has been processed, your adjuster will let you know that it has been received and will get back to you within 60 days (or sooner) with an offer for repair or cash value.
They may also send an inspector out to see your claims of damage first -- if so, great news! That inspector might be the one who is budgeting how much the repairs will be. This will be a great opportunity for you to get to know the person and their work and decide if you want to accept their repairs or find someone to do it yourself.
Step Six: Accept or reject the offer.
The adjuster will most likely email you a very easy-to-read copy of your offer, but the official offer will show up in the TSP system. Line by line, you'll be able to either accept repair or cash for the item or reject it. If you choose to accept repair, the adjuster will work with you to make sure the company doing the repair is up to your standards.
Crushed Ikea nightstand? Not worth it, cash out. Gouged grandmother's table? Let's talk repair. In our experience, they've been terrific at making sure that even the nicest, fanciest, family heirloom type of furniture gets appropriate treatment.
If you are going to reject any of the offers, talk to your adjuster right away and ask for help moving forward. You can learn more about the process here.
Far more likely, you're going to accept the claim and move forward replacing the damaged items.
Step Seven: Congratulate yourself (and thank your adjuster)
You just survived the Worst Military Move in History. Or at least the worst move in your personal history. Good for you. You did it. Ikea awaits.