Army wife Alissa Fancher was so upset with the damage being inflicted on her washing machine and other items — not to mention the damage that had been done before her furniture even got there — that she was in tears, and ordered the movers to stop unloading.
Hers is one example of what’s happening to a number of military families who are moving this summer.
“This was a living nightmare, to say the least,” said Fancher.
While her husband is on a hardship tour, Fancher was moving from Fayetteville, North Carolina, to Aberdeen, Maryland, in June, after he got orders there. She made the move with her daughters, an 11-month-old and a 6-year-old with special needs.
While the company delivered her household goods a day early, she has plenty of complaints about the packers, as well as the crew that unloaded her shipment.
Her household goods were delivered in a U-Haul truck after the moving van broke down. She contends that her family’s belongings were haphazardly thrown into that truck, causing extensive damage.
She became so upset as her shipment was unloaded that she called her husband, who was asleep in another time zone. He told her to stop the unloading while he tried to reach the base’s transportation office. Meanwhile, she was able to reach the workers' boss, telling him not to unload anything else until they found help.
The following day, the workers didn’t arrive until after 6 p.m. As they were leaving, about three hours later, she told them they needed to put the beds together, as required. At this point, she and her daughters were exhausted.
Since then, Fancher has had trouble reaching the company responsible for the packers and driver as she seeks payment for the damage done to her old residence while moving furniture out, and to the new residence while moving it in. She figures she’s owed about $820 — and that she’s spent 60 hours over six weeks trying to reach the company.
However, her claim for $4,000 in damage to her household goods was quickly approved and reimbursed by Total Military Management, the company that was responsible for the overall move. Although TMM isn’t responsible for the damage to the residences, TMM chief operating officer Kent Stermon looked into the issue.
A check from that subcontractor company was actually already on the way to the previous landlord, he said, although it was a lesser amount. The company’s CEO agreed to pay the extra amount, and Fancher confirmed her previous landlord received the first check this week.
“TMM has been great getting my claims processed,” she said, and communication was easy.
Among the damaged items, when all was said and done: family heirloom vases, dining room table, treadmill, bedroom furniture, and many more.
Total Military Management, of Jacksonville, Florida, arranged for the packing, loading, hauling and unloading by a separate company based in North Carolina.
“This has been a brutal summer,” said Stermon, echoing the comments by others in the industry and U.S. Transportation Command, which oversees DoD’s shipment programs for household goods and privately owned vehicles.
The basic problem is that there aren’t enough packers, truckers and other workers to handle the capacity of moves this summer. A shortage of more than 50,000 truck drivers nationwide and an improving economy that is drawing workers to other companies outside the moving industry contribute heavily to the problem. In addition, moving companies get paid less for military moves than they do for corporate and residential moves.
About 10 percent of service members moving this year have experienced a delay in delivery, and the delays are expected to continue, according to U.S. Transportation Command officials. They advise families to work closely with their personal property offices to understand their options, such as filing inconvenience claims.
‘Horror story after horror story’
TMM has a policy of not taking on more business than they can handle, Stermon said. For example, they are turning down all moves in Key West right now because there is not enough capacity to handle those moves. While they are finding ways to solve problems elsewhere, it’s just not possible for Key West, he said.
“I’m hearing horror story after horror story about Key West. There’s only one moving company there,” he said.
But getting information about delays has been a big issue for many military families, whose moves are being handled by many different companies across the country.
Another military wife, who asked not to be identified, was so frustrated with the delay in receiving her unaccompanied baggage shipment from overseas that she rented a U-Haul and drove to pick up the shipment, needed in no small part because they have a child with a disability. The unaccompanied baggage shipment is a smaller shipment sent ahead more quickly from overseas, designed to provide the family with essentials until the full shipment arrives.
She said there have been continual issues with reaching the moving company that has their household goods. Although their regular household goods shipment arrived more than a month ago, it has yet to be delivered.
“We’ve shelled out about $4,000” for needed items, she said. “We have a kid with a disability and she needs to sleep in a bed, not on an air mattress. ... We had to dip into our savings. I’m curious how much worse this is on enlisted families out there who don’t have the money.”
“There are a limited number of companies that will contract for the moving, All you get is excuses,” the military wife said. “The company says, ‘We have a lot of stuff, we only have so many trucks, we only have so many crews.’
“But they were hired to fulfill a contract to deliver these household goods in 45 days. Either meet the contract or pay me,” she said.
“All the branches of service need to communicate how many service members they’re moving in and out of these places. They can make some adjustments, extend service members or move them earlier, so there’s a manageable amount of moving. … And they need to stop moving people every two years. They need to move every four years,” she said.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.