Due to housing shortages, delayed moves and other factors, this year’s PCS season has been more costly than usual for many service members and their families, That’s why military relief societies have stepped up to help in a variety of ways — from helping with pet transportation costs to expenses related to extended hotel stays.

The relief societies have provided more than $216,000 in loans or grants to help service members unexpectedly hit with few options other than spending thousands of dollars to transport their dogs and cats to or from overseas.

All the relief societies have ongoing programs for assistance with moving expenses for service members and families, so service members should contact their particular relief society for assistance with various costs. But Army Emergency Relief just rolled out a new program for soldiers affected by the widespread housing crunch and the shortage of moving companies.

Army Emergency Relief is providing assistance to soldiers and families to help pay their hotel bills when their temporary lodging entitlements end. The assistance is provided as a zero-interest loan in anticipation of cost reimbursement from the Army.

Many service members have said they are taking a large financial hit, having to pay out of pocket for extended hotel stays as they wait for housing, whether on base or outside the gate. Then there’s the shortage of moving companies, which struggle to find workers, deal with shortages of equipment and other issues in a busy moving season, causing delayed or canceled moves for service members.

Pet transportation

At the same time, it’s been a challenging and costly moving season for military pet owners who are moving to and from overseas.

Military families have had fewer options for transporting their pets to and from overseas, and because of the reduced capacity for pet transportation on commercial flights, shipping costs have increased. Some families are faced with thousands of dollars of pet transportation costs.

While the military does have a lower-cost PCS option for shipping pets with their families on government-contracted Patriot Express flights going to and from overseas, it’s space available only for pets, and first come, first served. To help ease the situation this year, commercial airlines providing these government-contracted Patriot Express flights agreed to temporarily double the number of pets that can travel in the airplane cabin, to 20. The extra spaces will be available through Sept. 30.

But service members in some cases need to use pet shipping services, which can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the pet and where it’s headed.

To help ease this burden, the relief societies have implemented new programs. To get details of each society’s program, contact your local office on the installation, or visit their website.

Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society officials report that their pet program is “going strong,” and they’ve provided more than $86,000 in pet transportation assistance over the past several months. The relief society launched the interest-free loan program in May, providing up to $5,500 to cover the cost of up to two pets during a PCS move.

The other relief societies soon followed suit.

Since June 9, when the Army Emergency Relief policy was implemented, AER has provided $40,000 in assistance to 19 soldiers for pet transportation costs.

Army Emergency Relief’s program offers no-interest loans of up to $5,500, and grants may be considered as an exception after review by the garrison leadership. Additional assistance beyond the $5,500 may also be requested as an exception. The policy also allows for retroactive reimbursement as a loan if the soldier has already paid for pet transportation through a credit card or high interest loan.

Air Force Aid Society has provided $90,550 in financial assistance to 95 airmen/guardians at 32 installations for assistance with pet travel, according to retired Chief Master Sgt. Beatriz Swann, operations manager for that relief society. Of that total, $85,547 was in the form of grants; and $5,003 was provided in interest-free loans.

That relief society provides needs-based grants of up to $1,000 for pet transportation.

The base with the highest number of service members assisted by Air Force Aid Society is Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, with 12. The next highest is Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, with 11.

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.

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