Doctors warn Congress about potential link between moldy housing and veteran suicide risk

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Doctors are warning Congress about the potential link between suicide risk for veterans and moldy living conditions for military service members and their families.


For nearly two years, we have reported on military families around the country sounding alarms about mold in military housing. Multiple Congressional investigations and watchdog reports have shed light on concerns about mold in privatized military housing and barracks housing operated by the Defense Department.

“I’ve had many patients with mold-related illness who were military service members, or probably veterans by the time they saw me, and they had lived in military housing,” said Dr. David Ross, a neuropsychiatrist and brain injury specialist. “It’s about 20 percent of my practice, patients with mold-related illness.”

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Our Washington News Bureau spoke with Dr. Ross and Dr. Andrew Heyman, an integrative medicine doctor, as they came to Capitol Hill with members of the Behavioral International Economic Development (BIED) Society to meet with Senate staffers. The focus of the meeting was on highlighting potential connections between suicide risk and moldy homes.

“My work and research has evolved and focused on people who have been affected by water damaged buildings. This is an area of medicine that is typically ignored or not looked at very formally. In fact, I think it’s one of the greatest failures in primary care and public health,” said Dr. Heyman. “We started sort of considering well, how does this contribute to veteran suicide and is there a link? My belief is there likely is one to some degree… This is really important and no one’s talking about it.”

Read: ‘This is disgusting:’ Lawmakers grill DoD about poor military housing conditions

The doctors shared the slides they said they provided to staffers for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office with our Washington News Bureau. The doctors argue mold-related illness is a risk factor for suicide in large part because of how it can affect the brain.

We asked Dr. Ross to explain the impact on the brain when a person has exposure to a moldy home.

“Some people can live in the home and have no problem, and other people in the same family in the same home could have terrible problems,” said Dr. Ross. “You [could] get a long list of problems including cognitive problems like impaired memory, concentration, attention, mood problems like depression, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue.”

Read: ‘I’m disgusted’: Families claim awful conditions at some military housing making them sick

The doctors said they want Congress to invest in studying this problem more so we can have the data needed to better understand the potential links.

“We need to collect more data. We need to show first and foremost, who is at risk and in what particular ways, and then we can start asking questions, well what do we do about it?” said Dr. Heyman. “Awareness has to be raised.”

We reached out to Leader Schumer’s office for comment about the meeting but have not heard back. The doctors said they have another meeting scheduled with a key House committee later this year.

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