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In The News

Managing PCS Moves in the Age of COVID-19

2020-09-25

Spring and summer are generally the busiest times of the year for PCS (Permanent Change of Duty Station) moves. But not this year.

Between May 15 and June 12, military movers picked up 15,302 household goods shipments, compared to 86,843 household goods shipments during the same period in 2019 — an 82% drop, according to John Becker, interim president of the American Moving and Storage Association.

Why So Slow?

In March 2020, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper issued a stop movement order — freezing travel for Active Duty, Reservist and Civilian DOD employees — to help contain the spread of COVID-19 throughout the military. Nearly 12,000 U.S. troops have tested positive for COVID-19.

In June, DOD replaced that order with a regional conditions-based set of guidelines governing when and where servicemembers, civilian employees and dependents can travel, subject to the assessment of conditions at individual military installations. Locations must meet a series of criteria to see earlier travel bans lifted.

Servicemember travel is now possible in most states but remains limited in Florida and California. However, waivers are being considered for mission-essential travel, emergencies and some PCS moves, says the DOD.

A Different Kind of Move

In April, Gunnery Sergeant John Friedman at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, received PCS orders to San Diego, California.

With the stop movement order still in place, the family, including wife Gisella Mancilla and two children, ages six years and six months, had to drive across the country rather than fly. “We thought that would be very challenging with COVID-19 shutdowns,” says Gisella, who is one of AAFMAA’s SpouseLink Ambassadors. “But because we worked closely with our move-in counselor we knew what to expect at each end.”

Hotels along the route were still open with procedures in place for ensuring rooms were clean and well stocked with hand sanitizers and wipes. “But there were reminders throughout the drive that we were in the midst of a pandemic and we wore masks any time we stopped along the road,” she says.

“And, of course, once we got here, the training was still not functioning at 100% capacity.”

Changes in Selling

It can be worrisome having strangers come into your home in normal times, let alone during a pandemic.

Gisella and John spent April and May packing their home in North Carolina and getting it ready to sell. A “coming soon” sign was posted out front, and the family vacated the home for its first showing. Everyone coming into their home wore facemasks, gloves, and shoe covers.

Not much foot traffic was necessary. The home sold in just six hours.

Buying a Home

If you’re buying, and especially in an area you’re unfamiliar with, you’ll want to speak with a real estate professional experienced in working with military clients.

You will probably view homes virtually with your agent before shortlisting those to see in person. Depending on the state, your real estate agent will probably have you sign a COVID-19 waiver and you’ll need to wear protective gear when you go into homes.

Or, if it’s all getting too complicated, you could opt to rent or live in base housing, which is what John and Gisella did.  

Getting Your Loan

If you want to improve your chances of buying quickly, get pre-approved by a mortgage lender. A pre-approval letter carries a lot of weight with sellers, letting them know you’re serious about buying and your lender believes your credit is sufficient for a loan up to a certain amount.

During COVID-19, many lenders have tightened their credit standards. Some will require a credit score of at least 640 and a low debt-to-income ratio for VA Home Loans.

Also, ask if they’ll be able to do a quick closing — within seven to 10 days. Stipulating a fast close can be attractive to some sellers and make your offer stand out.

Other Changes

Servicemembers who have conducted business from overseas may be familiar with some of the technology now being used for remote real estate transactions. For example, some title offices are using eClosings, which allow parties to sign settlement documents without ever meeting. Because of online notarization laws, however, virtual closings aren’t legal in every state. Learn more about online notarization and other ways COVID-19 is changing the Mortgage Process.

In addition, instead of tagging along with a home inspector in person, they might use video conference technology like FaceTime or Zoom to fill you in on the highlights that will be in their report.

We’re Here to Help.

If you’re not certain about whether or not it’s the right time to purchase a home, please contact us online today or give us a call at (877) 387-6856. An expert Military Mortgage Advisor will happily provide you with an honest and fair comparison of your mortgage options, including a wide range of low-rate and low-cost mortgages designed to meet your needs. Ensuring our Members obtain the best mortgage possible is our mission.

Common Questions

Yes, your AAFMAA policy will cover a death related to COVID-19 if you are an existing AAFMAA Member with a policy issued more than two years ago or prior to a COVID-19 diagnosis, even within the first two years the policy is owned. The only exclusion on AAFMAA policies is death by suicide within the first two years.

However it is important to note that death claims made against an underwritten policy issued within the last two years are contestable, regardless of the cause of death. Contestable death claims are reviewed and subject to denial if we find undisclosed material information that would have changed the outcome of the policy issuance decision.

Yes, if you are applying for a policy that requires medical underwriting, you must disclose a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. Not doing so would be considered material misrepresentation and could result in your policy being voided.

As mentioned above, death claims made against an underwritten policy issued within the last two years are contestable, regardless of the cause of death. Additionally, you don’t have to die for a material misrepresentation to void your contract. The policy can be voided at any point within the first two years if AAFMAA finds that you provided incorrect information about your health history and that the correct information would have prevented us from issuing the policy.

If you were diagnosed with having contracted COVID-19 prior to applying for life insurance and you failed to disclose that diagnosis on your application, your death claim could be denied. This is because, if you had disclosed your COVID-19 diagnosis, we would have followed current industry guidelines and possibly postponed acceptance of your application. In this case, your policy would be voided and your survivors would only receive a refund of the premiums you had paid.

No, the COVID-19 vaccine is classified as a typical wellness check, for which we do not require disclosures and do not deny death claims. We strongly suggest that our Members follow CDC recommendations and receive the COVID-19 vaccination as soon as they are eligible.

Industry guidelines indicate that a COVID-19 diagnosis may postpone acceptance of your application for a period of three weeks to 1 year following recovery, depending on the severity of symptoms and treatment. This timeline is subject to change as new information becomes available and industry guidelines are adjusted accordingly. Those who experience a full recovery may be considered for issue before 12 months, while serious cases (such as those which required a ventilator) may be postponed for longer.

No. Receiving a COVID-19 vaccination will not affect the acceptance of your application.

No, AAFMAA cannot change your premiums or your health classification on a policy you currently hold. Your premiums and health classification will remain the same, even if you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or you are at a higher risk of exposure due to your job, living situation, or recent travel, or if you get one of the COVID-19 vaccinations approved for emergency use by the USFDA.