Fair warning: this is just my experience. Take away what ever lessons you can, but do not count on this as an interpretation of the actual regulations or rules.
Sometimes, unexpected things happen in life. The end of a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move does not always mean that you’re having your household goods delivered immediately. Thankfully, the military offers some free storage with each move. But what happens when your free government storage ends?
Last summer, my family PCSed from Europe to the US. We decided to renovate our house before moving in, and so we moved in with my mother “temporarily.” In August.
Our household goods arrived in September, and so our 90 days of temporary storage began. When the 90 days was up, my husband requested, and was granted, an extension for another 90 days. Which ended a bit ago. And we’re still at my mother’s house.
After evaluating all the options, my husband decided that our best choice was to keep our household goods in their current storage location, but start paying for the storage ourselves. In this type of situation, the military still retains responsibility for the final delivery fees, which makes this option attractive.
After approximately 4,276 emails back and forth between the company who has our storage shipment, the personal property people, the transportation management people, and the legal services office, we were told that in order to “move” (not move) our items from government storage to personal storage, we would have to have the shipment inspected. The price for the inspection is based upon weight; ours is somewhere in the $900 range.
We asked a lot of questions about who is responsible for the items at which point in the process, and got a LOT of conflicting answers, and a lot of “well, the rules keep changing,” type of answers.
Then, we had to decide what type of insurance we wanted on the items in storage: the free basic coverage, or additional coverage for an additional cost. There was a lot of back and forth about whether which insurance choice required inspection, but it seemed we were paying for an inspection anyway, so I never did get all the details about that issue.
Which brings us to today, when many questions were answered and even more questions were developed.
We were told to show up at the warehouse at 9 am to inspect our shipment. When we arrived, we were taken to a corner of the warehouse with 11 of our 15 crates staged. We repeatedly asked “how does this liability thing work?” and “At what point the process do we file a claim for damages that occurred prior to today?” but didn’t get a lot of answers. We also didn’t get any instructions.
Our very nice crew started uncrating our items. Anything that was in a box or a wrapped tub, we noted any damages to the carton, and all furniture was unwrapped and inspected. The moving company rep was making notes and we were making notes and discussing which damage was new and how much was old moving damage or just normal wear and tear of life. I took some pictures of damage that was notable, and I thought things were going pretty well. Items were being recrated as we went, and the process was smooth and organized.
After lunch, someone in the company decided that the process wasn’t moving fast enough, so they simultaneously added an extra crew member and instructed them to “just get everything unpacked.” I should have put my foot down right then, but I couldn’t possibly have anticipated the chaos that ensued. Instead of taking things out, inspecting what needed to be inspected, and then putting things back, it became a mad rush to empty the remaining 8 crates onto the warehouse floor. I did occasionally ask, “Um, how is this going to work?” and was repeatedly reassured that they had a plan.
Once every crate was unpacked, the team decided to do a thorough search through the approximately 250 items, looking for 5 missing items. This is when I realized that my discomfort was not irrational – this was madness! The day was ending, we had 8 crates of stuff scattered across about 1000 square feet, with random things stacked this way and that, and about 10 items of furniture unwrapped but not yet inspected and additional items still wrapped. I’m not sure if it was the tone or the actual words, but the crew finally got the message that we were not happy. They pulled in additional crew members and everyone started frantically organizing and inspecting and (still!) looking for the missing items.
During this frenzy, it somehow became clear what was happening with regard to the inventorying. The crew wasn’t helping us inspect for damage to make a claim; they were inventorying the condition of items to cover their own liability. Any information being used for our claim needed to be coming from our notes. This makes perfect sense, in retrospect, but it would have been significantly more helpful to have known that BEFORE we started, not 7 1/2 hours into unpacking and repacking.
At 5 p.m., some guy who we’d not yet seen (despite having talked to at least 10 people) showed up and announced that the warehouse was closing for the evening and we’d have to come back tomorrow. Whoa, nellie! Number one, we’re not available tomorrow. Number two, this is the sort of information that should have been shared at any point prior to now. Number three, the reason we’re in this situation is because someone in your company decided that the previous system wasn’t working and messed with it. I’m pretty irritated that has somehow become MY problem.
After a few heated words, it became clear that we really didn’t have any choice but to return. Neither my husband or I can cancel our activities for tomorrow, so it was decided that the company would do their inspection, repack as much as possible, and leave out the items that we needed to inspect when I return on Friday.
On the way out, we checked with our office contact and asked a few more questions. It was at this point in time that we were told that we should have been making all those damage notes on the claim form. I asked where we got those, and was informed that we should have been given them at the beginning of the day. She tracked down our forms and handed them over for us to transcribe all our notes before returning on Friday. It seems that our 70 days to claim damage starts with today’s inspection. Nice to know.
It feels like there is a lot more to say about this “process,” and I suspect I’ll be updating this as things evolve, but I want to get it all out to you while it is fresh in my head.
If you find yourself in a situation where your government storage ends before your storage needs end, be sure to explore all the other options. Hopefully, this will provide some insight into the option of keeping your items with the same company that is already storing them. It is by no means a complete or definitive guide, but our experiences that may help you do it better than we are.