Insurance coverage and Army Claims System rules and limitations related to catastrophic weather events are frequently overlooked aspects of emergency planning and preparation, according to legal advisors with the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate here.

Most Team Lee members would likely agree that protecting their personal belongings – ranging from vehicles and high-cost electronics to clothing and cherished items collected during military travels – runs a close second to ensuring themselves and their loved ones remain safe and uninjured in times of crisis.

The most obvious property protection measure is commercially purchased insurance. The OSJA recommends checking any existing home, renters or automobile policies to see what they cover. Most companies likely require purchase of additional “riders” or a separate policy to cover losses from catastrophic incidents or weather events. Keep in mind many policies have an “implementation period” – typically 30 days after the first payment – to protect the insurer from fraud and abuse of claims.

Military personnel residing in post housing should consider commercially purchased property insurance, particularly for high-dollar or one-of-a-kind items. Some protection also is provided through the Personnel Claims Act, which is implemented for Army members by AR 27-20 and DA Pamphlet 27-162.

The PCA provides reimbursement for a claimants’ loss or damage caused by “extraordinary hazards,” which include “fire, flood, hurricane and other unusual occurrences.” Such reimbursements are gratuitous payments authorized by Congress to cover loss or damage considered incident to the military or government service of the claimant.

Payments under the PCA are secondary to any private insurance the service member or DOD employee has. For damage to personal property that occurs on the installation due to a catastrophic severe weather event, the Soldier or employee should first contact their private insurer. Soldiers living on the installation in privatized housing would file a claim under the personal property insurance policy offered through the property management company. For damage to vehicles, the Soldier or DOD employee would file with the company providing insurance for their vehicle. In appropriate cases, the Army Claims System may pay for expenses not covered by private insurance or when the value of the loss is beyond the limits of the insurance policy.

To substantiate a claim for damage or loss, whether it is filed with a private insurer or through the Army Claims System, the service member must establish ownership of the items prior to the catastrophic event, the value, and the cost to repair or replace the property. There are several things service members can do ahead of time that will assist in processing their claim.

The easiest way to establish ownership of household goods is to take pictures or create a video. Being able to review a visual “walk-through” of a residence is of immeasurable benefit to claim evaluators while trying to determine the value of property that has been destroyed. Retaining receipts of major household purchases also is helpful, especially for items procured subsequent to the time of pictorial or video documentation.

Copies of household good shipment inventories are useful as well since they document the nature and extent of property owned at the time of delivery to the residence. Claims processors can use the information to corroborate ownership of larger household good items. Smaller possessions, however, are often not individually reflected on the inventories. This can be especially problematic for cherished possessions like jewelry. A high-dollar inventory list – whether generated as part of a household goods move, insurance appraisal or other similar purpose – is a good way to document ownership and value.

To safeguard important documentation, store originals or copies in a secure location other than the personal residence. A bank safe deposit box is an excellent option. Creating an electronic copy to leave with trusted family or friends is an equally smart move.

Heeding weather warnings and advisories is another area that could affect insurance claim reimbursements. Property owners are expected to take reasonable steps to protect their belongings in instances where advance notification is given and there is ample time to respond. For example, if individuals were advised to move their vehicles due to possible flooding and failed to do so, they could be liable for any resulting damage.

In light of the many instances of severe weather events impacting Virginia each spring and summer – including nor’easters, damaging thunderstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes – all aspects of emergency planning and preparation should be taken seriously. The OSJA team is proud to join emergency managers across the nation for the April observance of America’s PrepareAthon, and encourages all community members to better protect life and property through proactive measures.

Anyone with questions about the information discussed in this article can call the OSJA Client Services Division at (804) 765-1520 or talk to a claims expert in our new office location at 701 27th Street.