JUNE 22, 2023 – For many service members, the general rotation for a Permanent Change of Station is every two to four years. Regardless of how many times a military family has moved, each move varies, and each family member responds differently to the transition. The process of relocating during the PCS season can induce stress in response to changes to living arrangements, employment, schools, routines, social activities and new support networks.
According to the 2021 Health of the Army Family report, PCS moves can yield both short-term effects on the well-being of service members and families and long-term effects on the broader Army mission of ready and retained Soldiers. Many of these effects apply to all service members and their families, regardless of branch of service. Therefore, the process of identifying, addressing, and preventing challenges associated with PCS moves is critical to optimizing the health and well-being of all service members and their families.
How to help ease the stress of relocating
To help ease the stress of relocating, here are some helpful tips to consider:
- Maintain open communication. Once the “where and when” of PCS orders are received, it is important to start communicating PCS move plans to family members as soon as possible. Use visual reminders, such as a calendar, to help manage key tasks, responsibilities, and expectations for moving.
- Be organized. Another tip is to develop a custom checklist for your move that is tailored to your individual and/or family’s needs. Whether the relocation entails driving or flying to the new location, it is important to keep these personal documents on hand instead of packing or shipping them:
- Birth certificate(s)
- Marriage license
- Automobile title(s) and registration(s)
- Insurance papers
- Bank records
- Medical records
- Get everyone involved. Making the PCS move an adventure and fun experience for children can help ease the stress of leaving behind what is familiar to them. Involving all family members in the relocation process helps to foster engagement and builds a shared responsibility throughout PCS travel. This can include learning about the new area together through researching interesting places to visit, best restaurants, and family events and activities to attend.
- Use behavioral health and community resources. Accessing or continuing to receive mental health services during a change of station can help minimize stress when navigating a move. Awareness of relocation resources, to include websites, apps, and books designed to aid the PCS process, can be a protective factor for military families during periods of transition.
- Military One Source offers strategies to include relocation assistance and counseling support. For remote help, Military OneSource offers military members and their spouses up to 12 free sessions of non-medical mental health assistance through telephone, online or face-to-face counseling. You can call 800-342-9647 to speak with a consultant 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from anywhere in the world. Link: https://www.militaryonesource.mil/non-medical-counseling/military-onesource/free-confidential-face-to-face-non-medical-counseling/
- If a service member or family member is already receiving mental health care through a Military Treatment Facility, your current provider or clinic manager can connect you with the behavioral health clinic at your new duty station. Having a warm handoff to your new provider helps to provide a smooth transition from one provider to another and minimizes gaps in care.
- InTransition is a free and confidential coaching program that offers specialized coaching and assistance to Service members and veterans who need access to mental health care when relocating to another assignment. InTransition also offers services during periods of change, to include when returning from deployment, separating from active duty, and other times when there is a need for a new mental health provider for the first time. Link: https://www.health.mil/Military-Health-Topics/Centers-of-Excellence/Psychological-Health-Center-of-Excellence/inTransition
Additional Relocating Resources
The Military Child Education Coalition creates supportive behavioral health resources for military families to include interactive guides for understanding and sharing behavioral health issues within military communities. MCEC also develops well-being toolkits with evidence-based content meant to foster the emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and overall well-being of military children to include social-emotional supportive resources for parents, educators, school counselors, administrators, and other youth-serving professionals working with military-connected youth
My Army PCS is an interactive app that allows users to become familiar with the PCS process, including planning, preparing for, and organizing their move; understanding the claims process for lost or damaged household goods; and learning about the latest transportation changes. A virtual call center with live agents is available to assist with any questions.
The Defense Health Agency supports our Nation by improving health and building readiness–making extraordinary experiences ordinary and exceptional outcomes routine.
By Army Lt. Col. Melissa Boyd
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Defense Centers for Public Health–Aberdeen