Editor’s note: This article has been updated with new information from Air Force Aid Society.
Service members will be able to get reimbursed for shipping Fido to their new duty station starting next year.
Troops on PCS orders may be reimbursed for the eligible costs of relocating one dog or one cat per move, under a new Defense Department policy. Reimbursement can be up to $550 if the move is made within the continental United States, and up to $2,000 if the move is made to or from overseas.
The new policy, set to take effect Jan. 1, 2024, doesn’t apply to the current PCS season and isn’t retroactive. However, the military relief societies are continuing to provide assistance for eligible families to help pay for pet shipping costs. Since 2021, the three relief societies have provided a combined $813,000 in this assistance for military families.
The reimbursement was authorized in the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. Although the law authorizes up to $4,000 per pet for transportation to and from overseas, DoD officials set the maximum at $2,000. A Marine Corps administrative message signed June 9 cited “significant unbudgeted costs of this new authority” as a reason for pushing the benefit to Jan. 1, 2024.
Over the past few years, transportation of pets during PCS has become increasingly difficult and expensive for military families.
Realizing the financial hardship military families were facing to transport their furry family members to and from overseas, the military relief societies have stepped up to help service members with the cost. According to Army Emergency Relief and Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, their average assistance for pet travel is around $3,000 per client. That’s not necessarily $3,000 per pet. According to AER spokesman retired Army Col. Sean Ryan, officials don’t have information on how many pets the clients are transporting, but they cap their assistance at $5,500.
Air Force Aid Society’s average amount per client is $1,000.
The fine print
♦ “Reasonable and substantiated” costs that can be reimbursed include mandatory microchipping, boarding fees, hotel service charges, licensing fees at the new permanent duty station, and pet shipping fees, if the service member flies rather than drives or the pet is shipped separately. Troops should keep their receipts.
♦ For those outside the continental U.S., eligible costs also include quarantine fees and fees for testing titer levels (antibody blood tests) for entry, as well as the costs above.
♦ When transoceanic travel is involved, the service member must use government or government-provided travel for the pet, if available, or the service member won’t be authorized reimbursement for transportation costs. These government options are lower cost, but space is limited and available only on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, visit the Air Mobility Command pet travel page.
♦ Service members are responsible for following all the rules for importing and exporting a pet, in order to be eligible. If the pet is denied entry, the service member could be denied reimbursement, according to DoD.
♦ The changes are scheduled to be published in the Joint Travel Regulations on Jan. 1, 2024, when the new benefit takes effect.
Military relief societies’ assistance
Army Emergency Relief plans to continue its assistance for pet transportation costs, which they began in 2022.
“We will reevaluate after the new DoD policy is implemented,” said AER spokesman Ryan. “We also realize many Army households have more than one pet.”
The organization’s “zero-interest bridge loan or grant will help reduce the financial burden until the soldier is reimbursed for their travel,” he noted.
The average amount of assistance provided has been $3,000 per soldier, he said.
Since the AER program started in 2022, they’ve helped 48 soldiers with $144,000 in assistance, Ryan said. That includes 45 zero-interest loans, two grants and one loan-grant combination.
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society began its pet travel assistance program in May 2021 and has provided $252,973 in zero-interest loans to 87 sailors and Marines, said spokeswoman Gillian Gonzalez. They, too, will continue to provide assistance and will reevaluate the program once the DoD reimbursements start. There may be continuing needs as service members wait for reimbursement or need to pay for more than one animal.
Air Force Aid Society is continuing the pet assistance it started providing in 2021. By August of that year AFAS had provided $90,550 in financial assistance to 95 airmen and guardians. In 2022 and 2023 to date, the organization has provided $325,937 in loans and grants to 332 airmen and guardians.
“Pets are an extended part of the family, and even more so for our airmen and guardians,” said Robert York, chief mission advancement officer for Air Force Aid Society. “It’s an important part of our program and we’re happy to provide this assistance.”
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.