Saturday, December 11, 2010

Advice to Junior Officers: PCS Entitlements

First, a disclaimer...  As a general rule, I avoid posting rants against Navy organizations, institutions, or commands on my blog.  However, in order to provide this advice to the junior officers who read my blog, I must provide some background information that will come across as a rant.  Suffice to say, that's not my intent.

You probably don't have to ask more than one or two shipmates before one could tell you a personal story about a less-than-optimal experience dealing with the local Personnel Support Detachment (PSD).  Throughout my career of 16+ years, I have dealt with 9 different PSD offices around the globe.  On many (not all) occasions, I have walked out of PSD or hung up the phone with PSD in a state of frustration and angst.  The most frustrating thing about dealing with certain PSD offices is the inconsistency of standards.
Disclaimer:  I am NOT saying that ALL personnel working at ALL PSD offices are below standards of professionalism or knowledge of their field. 

In the submarine force, we are trained to operate by procedure and to know the requirements of our business.  If it's not a casualty that requires immediate action, then we don't operate on memory or by consensus amongst your shipmates.  You break out the black-and-white written procedure and you follow it.

My observations have been that many people working in PSD offices operate on "tribal knowledge."  They don't know what the requirements are or where to find them in written instructions or procedures.  They rely on what other people have told them and either don't look up the rules themselves or don't keep up to date with changes to the rules over the years.

In the same way that local dialects of the same language develop in isolated geographic regions, so do local understandings and interpretations develop of how to apply the rules for what Sailors are entitled to when they PCS transfer from one duty station to the next.  You may have the PSD at your detaching duty station assure you that you'll get X, Y, and Z when you get to your new duty station, but then when you arrive at your new duty station, the PSD there says, no, you aren't entitled to X, Y, or Z.  Unfortunately, there's no mechanism by which the personnel at the first PSD are held accountable for giving you bad gouge and the resultant financial impact on YOU.


As a submariner, I should have known better and learned much earlier in my career to look up the rules myself.  The problem is, we (submarine officers / line officers in general) spend very little time dealing with PCS transfers and entitlements, so we rely on PSD to be the experts and to tell us what the rules are.
Arriving at our new homeport.

It wasn't until my XO tour that the effects of this were made painfully clear to me during a change of homeport.  When a submarine (or ship) changes homeport, it is a monumental task for the ship's office and the PSD offices at both the old homeport and the new homeport.  There are SO many different rules for what entitlements each Sailor gets depending on how much time he has left on board and whether his family is staying in the old duty station or moving to the new duty station.  I created (and still have) a Change of Homeport reference binder that has printed copies of each of the pertinent sections of the reference documents, and it was worth it's weight in gold in making sure my Sailors received the entitlements they deserved.

A few months before our departure from our old homeport, we had a Change of Homeport Information Night at the base theater for the Sailors and their families.  We invited representatives from PSD, the POV shipping office, the Household Goods (HHG) / Personal Property shipping office, Navy Legal Service Office (NLSO) for powers of attorney, the Housing Office for those checking out of base housing, and so on.  When the PSD representative (a female civilian) got up on the stage, she spewed rubbish proclaimed one false statement after another about our entitlements.  She was totally relying on tribal knowledge, and it was ALL WRONG.

She was doing an excellent job of getting my crew, and more noticeably their wives, pretty riled up.  Thank goodness I had the applicable references in my Change of Homeport Binder!  Before the wives in the audience could start throwing flaming barbed spears at the PSD lady's chest, I had to step in, politely tell the PSD lady that the things she said were incorrect, and read from "the good book" to assure my crew and their families what their entitlements were.

The lesson I have learned from that change of homeport, AND in hindsight from experiences I had before that, AND in experiences I have had since then, is this:  Anytime someone at PSD tells me I am or am not entitled to something, I ask them for the reference.  Make them show you in an official document.

That being said, here are some references you may find useful:
  • Joint Federal Travel Regulations (JFTR) - I tend to go here first, because in my experience, the other references below are derived from and reference back to the JFTR.  For instance, if you look up PCS entitlements in article 1300-100 of the MILPERSMAN below, you will find:
"Service members who are ordered to make a permanent change of station (PCS) move are entitled to personal travel and transportation allowances per reference (a)."  (Reference (a) being the JFTR)
    • The JFTR is mostly for PCS and TDY travel and per diem entitlements, including moving your family before or after you transfer.  It also addresses things like when your BAH or COLA start or stop.  
    • Two Examples of useful info in the JFTR:
      • Delay of Dependent Travel / keeping your old BAH Rate.  In accordance with JFTR U10412, there are several circumstances (such as transferring to "unusually arduous sea duty") under which you are authorized to leave your family at your previous duty station or move them to another "designated place" (such as your home of record).  If the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rate at your old duty station is higher than at your new duty station, then this article covers the authorization to keep the BAH rate for where your dependents reside.  (There's a form letter you send to Pers-451 to get authorization for "delay of dependent travel.")
      • Per Diem during temporary training in your previous or new ultimate duty station.  In accordance with JFTR 5120.D., if you are executing PCS orders that have you make a stop for training in the same geographic location as your previous or ultimate duty station, then you are not allowed to receive per diem.  ...But wait!  That's not all!  Many folks stop reading there, but the sentence doesn't end there.  You aren't allowed to receive per diem IF you occupy the same permanent residence that you lived in at your previous duty station or are going to live in at your next duty station.  To wit:
"No per diem allowance is payable at a TDY location ICW a PCS with TDY en route near the old or new PDS if the member commutes to the TDY from the QTRS occupied while attached to the old PDS or the permanent QTRS the member intends to occupy at the new PDS." (JFTR 5120.D. emphasis added)
      • Note immediately after that is a very useful and clear-as-day definition of exactly when the quarters are considered "permanent."
"QTRS (residence, suite, room, cubicle, etc.) at the old PDS are no longer permanent QTRS on/after the PCS HHG weight allowance transportation date. QTRS at the new PDS are permanent on/after the date the PCS HHG weight allowance is accepted."  
  • Military Personnel Manual (MILPERSMAN) -
    • Leave and Liberty rules (1050) - I think this is the primary reference for Leave and Liberty.  The JFTR doesn't touch this. 
    • PCS Entitlement policies (1300) - Mainly refers you back to the JFTR, but offers some sample situations and how they interpret the JFTR.
    • POV shipping (4000)
    • HHG shipping (4000)
  • Submarine Personnel Manual (SUBPERSMAN) - COMSUBFORINST 1306.1.  I can't find a link to this one on the 'net, but your ship's office should have it.  This was an excellent reference during change of homeport.  It provided me a one-stop-shop place to see what the entitlements were for moving families, household goods, shipping POVs, Dislocation Allowance (DLA), Temporary Lodging Expense (TLE), Cost of Living Allowance (COLA), Family Separation Allowance (FSA), and it points you to the base reference (such as the JFTR or the Enlisted Transfer Manual).  I didn't even know the Submarine Personnel Manual existed until my XO tour, but it was the first place I would look for answers to the crew's questions.
  • Enlisted Transfer Manual (NAVPERS 15909G).  This manual is also very useful in that it cross-references to other instructions and tells you what the baseline instruction is (such as the JFTR or the SUBPERSMAN).
  • Officer Transfer Manual (NAVPERS 15559B).  I can't find this on the 'net, but your ship's office should have this on a CD.  It is important to note that there are different rules for officers versus enlisted.  For instance, in order for an enlisted crewmember to be entitled to a Change of Homeport certificate, his PRD must be at least 12 months after the change of homeport.  For officers, the requirement is 90 days.  It seems to me that a lot of people use the Enlisted Transfer Manual but aren't even aware of a separate instruction for officer transfers - as evidenced by the fact you can easily find the ETM on the internet but you can't find the OTM.
Hopefully, the PSD for your detaching command knows the reference and can show you.  Write it down or make a photo copy.  Then, if the PSD at your receiving command tries to tell you that you AREN'T entitled to what the detaching command PSD told you, you can show them the reference.

How about you?  Do you have any similar lessons learned with regard to travel or PCS entitlements?


    Ret ANAV said...

    Great post, XO (Skipper!). The take-away of knowing the answer BEFORE you ask the question is spot-on.

    Another thing to take into consideration here: It is unfortunate, but a fact of life that, more often than not, the FIRST person you interface with at PSD is generally a young man or woman from the LIMDU body-locker (Non-Rate SN/AN/FN) who is there simply to answer phones and answer the simplest of questions. They are not (nor have I come to EXPECT them to be) subject-matter experts. Anyone wearing a Khaki uniform has a unique advantage here:

    We have the ability to walk in, take an instant assessment of who we are about to speak with, and simply state:

    I would like to speak to your CHIEF, please.

    Amazing things start to happen.

    First; You (usually) get the answer you were expecting (Either right away, or a moment later, after the Chief has consulted the reference)

    Second; More often than not, the chief can usually resolve your issue before you walk out the door.

    XO, with your PCS, you have an advantage of walking into one of the BETTER PSD's in CONUS. Having done three tours in Bangor, I've NEVER had a problem with them...EVER. There is (assuming he's still there?) a gentleman there named Sal Famatid. Not the OIC, but he may as well be. Speaks softly and carries a big stick. Knows everything worth knowing and insists that everyone at the customer service desk knows it too. Again, assuming he's still there...if you have issues, ask for Sal.

    Have a great week, and best of luck in SCC!

    blunoz said...

    Thanks, ANAV. Your comment is a great addition to this post. Thanks for the gouge and warm wishes for Bangor, too!