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Pentagon’s stop-movement order creates financial burden for some families

Andrea and Jerry Bortner, now an Army captain, pose in an undated photo. The couple bought a home near Fort Belvoir, Va., but were unable to move in due to a Pentagon stop-movement order, which left them paying for two homes at the same time, while receiving one housing allowance.

ANDREA BORTNER

By J.P. LAWRENCE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 18, 2020

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Andrea and Army Capt. Jerry Bortner bought their first home on the same street as Jerry’s brother near their next duty station in northern Virginia, confident that their military housing allowance would cover the monthly mortgage payment.

But a Pentagon stop-movement order issued in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic has left them paying for two homes: their new 4-bedroom home near Fort Belvoir and the home they’re stuck renting at Fort Riley, Kan., until the Army lets them move.

“We’re paying for two houses in May, June and July,” Andrea Bortner said in a phone call Thursday. “It’s a big mess.”

The Bortners are among tens of thousands of military families whose permanent change of station moves have been delayed by the order. Many of those families are facing financial difficulties because of the backlog, said Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of the California-based nonprofit Blue Star Families.

“About a fifth of families with PCS orders polled have been paying two mortgages or leases,” Roth-Douquet said in a phone call Monday.

Some 18% of respondents to a Blue Star Families survey of 7,500 family members reported unexpected out-of-pocket expenses due to rescheduling their moves.

Meanwhile, 28% said they have had to dip into their savings as a result, according to the unreleased data shared this week by the nonprofit with Stars and Stripes.

So far, the stop-movement order has delayed about 24,000 soldiers and 42,000 sailors originally scheduled to move, Army and Navy spokesmen said this week. The Air Force and Marines have also experienced PCS backlogs.

The Army has allowed about 3,000 soldiers to continue their moves since the stop movement order took effect March 16 and was extended twice.

The Navy said they offer waivers to the stop-movement order for those facing “extreme financial hardships.” It will prioritize operational sea duty billets as it clears its five-month PCS backlog, a service memo said last week.

The Air Force did not respond to a request for comments on its plans.

Congress has also tried to help, with a bill introduced in May that would provide some financial relief to military families affected by the stop-movement order.

In the meantime, families like the Bortners are spending their savings. The family bought their house in northern Virginia — which is within one of the priciest metro areas in the U.S. — on the expectation they would receive a housing allowance of about $2,800 a month, Andrea Bortner said.

However, they’re only entitled under DOD rules to receive about $1,400, based on their on-post residence in Fort Riley.

“The member would continue to receive a housing allowance at the current duty station but would not be eligible for a second housing allowance at the prospective duty station,” Pentagon spokeswoman Lisa Lawrence said in an email.

While the family has found someone to rent their new home for a few months, which will partly help with costs, Andrea Bortner said PCS season this year has been much more stressful than their previous five moves.

“We are used to change, but no one knows what the rules are now,” she said.

lawrence.jp@stripes.com
Twitter: @jplawrence3
 

Andrea and Army Capt. Jerry Bortner pose with their two children in an undated photo. The couple bought a home near Fort Belvoir, Va., but were unable to move in due to a Pentagon stop-movement order, which has left them paying for two homes at the same time, while receiving one housing allowance.
ANDREA BORTNER