If your last PCS was before the hot mess of summer 2018, you might not have felt the impact of Megan Harless' advocacy for military families. Do you remember that year? Shipments delayed for months, crates missing from shipments and more broken furniture than seemed possible. So much crazy. In fact, you may remember a viral petition circulating demanding that the military hold moving companies accountable.
In what was sort of an accidental beginning, Harless' work has become much more. "I expected that petition to die off over the weekend, and it did the opposite," she said. "At first, the goal was to get it in front of the decision makers, and then I saw the impact it was having on the people that had similar stories. I saw it was a much bigger problem. Once it got traction, I felt a responsibility to keep it going, to see it through."
Since then, Harless and her team have accomplished big things. And for that, she's a finalist for the 2020 Spouse Changemaker of the Year Award. Harless has worked primarily with two other spouses, a Navy spouse and a National Guard spouse, who both sit on a U.S. Transportation Command panel with her, a board created as a direct result of her work.
Harless has been a little surprised at how much they've gotten done over the past two years. Both TRANSCOM and the moving industry were more open to her ideas than she anticipated, she said.
"They are listening, and they do care. It's been nice to have an open conversation with them," Harless said.
She also admits that she doesn't give up, so when they aren't receptive to her thoughts or ideas, she keeps pushing.
In 2019, Harless saw five new initiatives implemented. Those included changes to what types of moves are crated for stateside PCSs, more quality assurance inspections and an increase in liability coverage from $4 to $6 per pound, up to $75,000.
Harless said she's most proud of two changes she helped put in place. Topping that list is a change to a 2014 Army policy that denied dislocation allowance (DLA) paid in advance if the service member had a government travel card, a requirement for many PCS moves. After Harless asked senior leaders to reconsider, they agreed that most families employ DLA for its intended use, deposits on utilities and off-installation rentals, neither of which is authorized on government travel cards, and once again allowed soldiers to receive it ahead of time.
The other big win for 2019 was background checks for moving company employees who are interacting with families. This was a big issue in 2018 because, if personnel couldn't clear a background check at the Visitor Control Center (VCC) at each installation, moving trucks and movers were not permitted to enter the installation. Shipments were delayed on both ends, service members were escorting moving trucks, and some troops were even loading trucks into the late hours of the night.
Harless isn't stopping there. Five more initiatives are set to be implemented in May, just in time for the summer 2020 PCS season. (We hope.) Of these, there are two that make her smile. One is an extension of the background checks on movers working with personnel living off base. While families on installations had the VCC to help shield them from movers who could not pass a background check, families living off base had no such help.
Another big win is the per diem baseline inconvenience claim change. Gone are the days of saving every single receipt. Starting in May, the transportation provider will instead be required to make a flat payment of the per diem rate (for the service member only) for meals and incidentals without receipts for up to seven days. Anything after that or over that amount can be submitted with receipts.
There is still more work to be done, and Harless is not stopping any time soon. She says we should see other new developments for the 2021 season and advises military families to "be flexible and ready for changes." But they should not hesitate to speak up if there are problems, she added.
"There is someone there to listen and help you take care of them. Share good and bad experiences; not every move has to be a horror story. Don't be afraid to share those as well," Harless said.
We can't wait to see what she accomplishes next. And every military family facing another move appreciates it.
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--Rebecca Alwine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.