Military issues new details on reimbursing pet travel costs

by Tommy Grant

Planning to move to a new base? The U.S. military has started rolling out new details about what troops need to be reimbursed for the cost of bringing pets along for the ride.

Service members can be reimbursed up to $2,000 for one dog or cat for each permanent change of station move to or from the continental United States, or $550 if moving within the lower 48 states. PCS orders must be effective on or after Jan. 1, 2024.

Transporting pets during PCS moves has become increasingly difficult and expensive for military families over the past few years. Lawmakers sought to help alleviate that burden by authorizing reimbursements in the fiscal year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

Now, troops can seek reimbursement for costs to mandatory microchipping, quarantines, boarding, hotel service charges, virus immunity testing and pet licenses at the new duty station. The Pentagon can also reimburse the cost of shipping a pet via air, if the service member flies rather than drives, or if the pet is shipped separately from its owner.

The Defense Department’s Joint Travel Regulations lay out the general rules for reimbursement of “reasonable and substantiated costs” during a permanent move. Troops must provide the required receipts to get their money back, but the services may require additional documentation, according to the Defense Travel Management Office’s website.

Troops will use the form DD 1351-2 to claim pet expenses, and they’ll be paid when the travel claim is settled. Service members must be on PCS orders; the benefit is not retroactive.

When transoceanic travel is involved, according to the Joint Travel Regulations, service members must use government-run or federally contracted transportation to ship their pet, if it’s available. If that’s not an option, defense travel officials added, service members must get what is called a “non-availability letter” in order to be reimbursed for travel they book separately.

Those letters state that a government ride for a pet wasn’t available, and are issued by the office processing the transportation request. Service members should contact their transportation office for more details, according to defense travel officials.

The Department of the Air Force on Jan. 4 became the first of the military branches to announce more specifics about what troops need to recoup pet shipping costs:

  • All receipts to pet travel must be provided and itemized, and indicate which pet they are for. They should include the name of the pet, if possible, especially for specialized care such as pre-travel vaccinations. All receipts must be provided, including those for expenses under the typical reporting threshold of $75.
  • If the pet is flying cargo because it exceeds the weight limit for traveling by government-run or contracted transportation, the receipt must include the pet’s weight.
  • All documentation used to get a non-availability letter, proving a lack of government transportation, must be included when the service member files for reimbursement.

According to Air Mobility Command, travelers using AMC Patriot Express government-contracted flights will get a receipt for their pet travel fees when checking in for a flight.

The Navy and Marine Corps don’t require any additional documentation outside of the Joint Travel Regulations, service officials told Military Times.

The Army expects to soon publish their own guidance explaining the claims and documentation process for reimbursing soldiers, said Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ruth Castro. Until that guidance is published, soldiers should “refer any questions to their chain of command,” she said.

Defense travel officials stress that costs can only be reimbursed for one pet. If service members pay to ship more than one household pet, they can choose which pet costs to claim for reimbursement. However, if a dual-military couple is traveling on separate PCS orders, each may seek reimbursement for one household pet — meaning two pets could be covered in total.

Although the law allows DOD to reimburse up to $4,000 in relocation- costs per pet, per PCS move to or from overseas, defense officials capped the maximum repayable amount at $2,000 and delayed the policy’s implementation until Jan. 1, 2024.

The Marine Corps said in a June 9 memo that “significant unbudgeted costs” had prompted the Defense Department to delay the benefit after it became law in December 2022.

Realizing the financial hardship military families face to transport their pets around the world, the military relief societies have stepped up to help service members with the cost. Army Emergency Relief and the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society have spent about $3,000 per client, on average, to assist with pet travel.

For more information, service members can contact:

  • Air Force and Space Force: Local finance office
  • Navy: Human Resources Service Center at 833-330-6622, or [email protected]
  • Marine Corps: [email protected]
  • Army: For now, the local chain of command

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.

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