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New 'Families First' Program Aims To Improve Moving Process

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 24, 2005 – Full replacement value for lost or damaged items is among several changes taking effect in October as part of a new program called "Families First" that aims to improve the moving process for military families.

"We're going to have a lot of happier campers, because they are not going to be losing any money out of their pockets like they did before," said Cullen Hutchinson of the passenger and personal property office at the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command in Alexandria, Va. According the Hutchinson, under the current claims process, servicemembers only receive a depreciated value for property that is lost or damaged.

For example, a $200 television that is lost or damaged might only be valued at $100 after depreciation, he said.

With Families First, he said, "the carrier will either replace the television with a similar one or reimburse the servicemember the full cost of a new one."

Another benefit of Families First is that servicemembers will now deal directly with the carrier to arrange direct delivery of household goods, thus alleviating the need for temporary storage, he said.

"What makes this even better for the servicemembers is that whenever you have temporary storage, the more handling of your household goods, the more susceptible it is for loss or damage," he said. Hutchinson added that direct delivery will also save the services money now spent for temporary storage.

In Families First, servicemembers will file settlement claims directly with the carrier, using a Web-based claim filing process.

"There will not be a middle man; the servicemember will be able to address the carrier directly on the issue they have," he explained. "And the carrier will have an incentive to take care of that servicemember in a positive way."

Servicemembers will be encouraged to complete a Web-based customer satisfaction survey that measures the performance of carriers, Hutchinson said, and that survey will become part of that carrier's record. "If the carrier's performance is poor, then the amount of business he's going to get from the government is going to fall off or stop completely," he explained. "So there is a incentive there. It's no longer a competition on cost, but it's a competition now with cost and performance."

He said the survey gives servicemembers a chance to influence decisions on whether a carrier continues to do business with the Defense Department.

"And that decision is going to be based on the performance of that carrier," he said.

The result, he said, will be "more quality carriers, which will translate into quality service for our servicemembers. And higher quality carriers will ultimately mean higher quality moves."

Hutchinson said efforts like Families First should help improve the quality of service in the military moving industry that transports the household goods of more than 500,000 servicemembers and their families each year.

He said problems in the moving industry have plagued the services for years, and that efforts to improve the moving process have been ongoing since 1994, starting with reengineering of the household goods process. "The perceptions were that DoD was experiencing a very high loss and damage rate," he said. "When we looked at the numbers, it was significantly higher than some of the corporate accounts."

In addition, he said, claim rates also were higher for military moves. While average military claims ranged around $500, he said many corporate claims were in the range of $100.

In the end, he said, DoD expects to see a "considerable decrease in loss and damage claims."

"The reason for that is that the carrier is assuming a higher liability for claims," he said. "So it's in their best interest to protect the goods better so they are not subject to this loss."

Hutchinson said Families First also should ease some of the stress involved with moving.

"What we're trying to do is reduce that stress for our servicemembers so they can concentrate on more important things and not worry about 'my stuff.'"

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Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command

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