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Senators ask Defense Dept. to end use of non-disclosure agreements in privatized military housing

WASHINGTON — A group of U.S. Senators is calling for an end to the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) by private housing companies that operate homes on military bases.

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It comes after our reporting revealed some of the housing companies are requiring military families to sign an NDA in order to accept a settlement offer over problems with mold, sewage and other unsafe living conditions.

The letter was addressed to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and signed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).

“These NDAs clearly undermine the rights of military families,” the letter said. “We ask that you put an immediate end to any and all NDA provisions that military housing providers have put in place.”

Read: Senators call for end to non-disclosure agreements in military housing settlements

The letter says the use of NDAs prevents housing companies from being held accountable for “their failures.”

“The use of NDAs leaves tenants who were provided with unsafe or unhealthy housing conditions forced to choose between receiving compensation for those atrocious conditions and forever remaining silent about their experiences or telling their story and having to pay out of their own pockets for safe housing conditions,” the letter said.

The letter directly points to our previous reporting about a military family who was living on Fort Belvoir in Virginia and rejected a settlement offer that would have required them to sign an NDA.

Read: ‘It’s hush money:’ Military family rejects housing settlement over mold, sewage requiring NDA

Breanna Bragg told us how her family rejected a settlement offer with the private housing company after experiencing issues with mold and sewage because the NDA would have prohibited them from talking about their experience to anyone.

“It’s hush money,” Bragg told us in November.

We then brought our findings about the use of NDAs to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee since they are the ones with the power to address defense matters.

Read: ‘Why is it acceptable?:’ Military families push for accountability for base housing problems

We showed them an NDA that we obtained that said the parties shall not discuss the “alleged claims or make negative statements” about “military housing in general.”

“It is outrageous for these companies to demand non-disclosure agreements,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) after we showed her the NDA.

It led to bipartisan outrage on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“I don’t think it’s right,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL). “If you’re the next family coming in, wouldn’t you want to know what the problems are and if they’ve gotten resolved?”

Earlier this month, a spokesperson for the Office of the Secretary and Defense told us: “The Department supports the NDA requirements,” and pointed out that it is legal under the current law.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the DOD said: “The Department is preparing a response to address concerns raised in the subject congressional letter, to include clarifying that settlement agreements between Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) projects and military members and their family members who reside in MHPI housing (i.e., Tenants) may include NDAs, as allowed for by Section 3024 of the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20 NDAA), as amended by Section 2811(b)(3) of the FY21 NDAA, now codified in 10 USC 2890(f).”

We will continue to stay on top of this story and will bring you any developments as they unfold.

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