A PCA is a “Permanent Change of Assignment,” which means that the service member is reassigned within the same locality.  The assignment may be to another squadron on the same base, but it can also be to another duty station within a 50-mile region.  This means that servicemembers stationed at Eglin AFB can receive PCA orders to Hurlburt AFB; servicemembers at Joint Base Fort Myer Henderson Hall, VA, may be reassigned to Fort Meade, MD; and those teaching at the Air Force Academy may easily wind up at Peterson AFB, CO.  For the military, a PCA is cheerfully coded as a “low cost, no cost” move; however, for a service member who carefully selected a home with a short commute, a PCA may be a rather unwelcome change of events as quite often the new assignment will incur a far greater commute. 

A friend of mine who live a mere 25-minute shuttle bus commute south of his current assignment at The Pentagon just received PCA orders to Fort Meade.  He will now incur a commute of 1 to 1.5 hours each way.  Though the distance between his two duty assignments is only 27 miles, the distance now from his home to his new duty assignment is 43 miles, adding 16 miles to his commute through notoriously grueling DC traffic.  Another friend living 20 miles south of MCB Quantico received a reassignment to The Pentagon, which will now increase his commute to 49 miles, a manageable 1.25-hour distance by rapid public transit or a draining 2 hour drive each way along the I-95 corridor. 

While these moves mean a cost savings for the DoD for reassignments, unfortunately for my friends and many other servicemembers, their reassignment means a significantly negative impact to their family’s quality of life both in terms of transportation cost increases and time away from family.  To thwart the impact on their quality of life, both servicemembers have considered moving closer to work; however, a PCA does not permit the same moving allowances as a PCS.  For a family who owns their home, a sale or transfer of the home to a rental presents two options that would permit a move.  For a family who rents moving would require the family to either pay several thousand dollars in lease break fees or to find someone to sublease the home, a situation that generally often requires the family to provide concessions, such as rent breaks to present a competitive rental option.  Subleasing the property in almost all circumstances also requires the forfeiture of a security deposit; the new tenant will receive the refund of the deposit minus any expenses and damages upon the eventual termination of the lease.  Neither situation is particularly dire, but it does affect morale and, assuming a choice to move is made, also affects their financial circumstances.

According to the Federal Travel Regulations, the authorization of PCS allowances, such as Dislocation Allowance (DLA) and local movement of household goods, is permitted under a few circumstances for a PCA:

  • The required movement of a family from Government Quarters to private housing, for instance, moving out of school housing on base at the culmination of a school program.
  • Foreclosure of a landlord’s property.
  • A landlord refusing to renew a lease.
  • Unsafe or unsanitary living conditions.
  • A mission essential move.
  • A move deemed in the best interest of the government. (If anyone has experienced such a thing, please comment below this article. We’d love to hear what the government deems as its best interest!)

Under no circumstances, though, will the government pay to move for the primary convenience of the military family.  This means that no matter how inconvenient the new commute to a PCA, the onus of the cost of moving remains squarely on the shoulders of the military families who do choose to move.  Given these circumstances, if your family’s orders are among the many orders delayed for this 2014 moving season and your lease is up for renewal, consider the option of switching to a month-to-month lease before finalizing paperwork.  If you don’t think the home you’re in right now will serve your family’s needs for the next 2 to 3 years, the arrival of PCA orders instead of PCS won’t help you out if you’re stuck in a 12-month lease!