Lawmakers press DOD for answers about poor quality military housing

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. military is the most powerful force in the world.


Yet despite the sacrifices of those who serve, many of these service members and their families have been living in unsafe conditions like overflowing sewage and mold.

Over the last year, our Washington News Bureau has reported on safety hazards including pest infestations and mold at privatized military housing where many service members and their families live.

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Last week, we told you about this watchdog report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) that revealed poor living conditions such as sewage overflow, broken locks and mold at the barracks at some installations.

The barracks are where junior enlisted service members live at the beginning of their military careers and they are mainly run by the government.

That GAO findings about the barracks’ living conditions led Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) to send a letter to the Defense Department asking what the DOD is doing to address the housing problems.

Waltz is the Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, and the letter was co-signed by the Subcommittee’s Ranking Member, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.).

“The troubling findings no doubt affect recruitment and retention – areas all services continue to struggle with,” Waltz wrote.

Waltz asked the DOD to “provide the subcommittee a briefing on the current conditions of barracks and corrective measures to address the persistent challenges that are outlined in the GAO study.”

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The letter was sent on September 27 and Waltz requested a response from the DOD within 30 days.

Waltz is not only a lawmaker, but he is also a veteran – a combat-decorated Green Beret.

“I think this is a leadership failure on the Defense Department’s part,” said Waltz about the barracks’ conditions. “We’re not asking that they’re in McMansions. We just want things that are sanitary, clean and that our soldiers deserve.”

Waltz said he wants to bring in DOD officials to answer questions in a Congressional hearing about the barracks’ conditions.

“We need to hold these leaders accountable,” said Waltz. “There’s never any consequences to the people in charge. It’s our junior enlisted members that end up suffering and I’ve had it with that.”

That outrage over unsafe living conditions for service members has been echoed by members of both parties and both chambers.

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We told you how we spoke exclusively with Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) in March about a letter he sent to the DOD asking for information about how it tracks the impact poor quality housing has on the health of service members and military families living in privatized military housing.

That letter was co-signed by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Ossoff’s letter pointed to findings from an Inspector General report that found “the Pentagon does not adequately track the relationship between adverse conditions in privatized housing and the health of U.S. service members and their families.”

In response to Ossoff, the DOD said it has upgraded its system to collect and analyze the health and safety information.

It’s known as the Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) module, which is a component within the enterprise Military Housing (eMH) information management system.

“At this time, the DoD believes it has adequate resources and authorities to carry out the implementation of the full eMH EHS module 3.0,” wrote the Defense Department’s Chief Housing Officer.

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We spoke with Sen. Ossoff about the DOD’s response and the steps ahead.

“The initial response I got from DOD suggests that they’re taking my request seriously and that they’re making an effort, but I have not seen enough yet to satisfy me that this data is being robustly collected and I’m going to remain tenacious in demanding the Department of Defense be gathering and analyzing data about the health impacts on military families of poor-quality housing,” said Ossoff.

Ossoff is also pushing legislation in the Senate that addresses military housing problems.

That includes a bipartisan measure Ossoff is leading dubbed the Junior Enlisted Housing Affordability Act, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

The proposal aims to help junior enlisted service members afford housing on or off base.

Another proposal dubbed the Military Housing Readiness Council Act aims to ramp up oversight of privatized military housing.

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We asked Ossoff and Waltz about their messages to military families and service members who have been waiting years for meaningful change to the living conditions.

“What military families can count on is that I will resolutely, unfailingly and relentlessly continue to fight for them on affordability, on health and safety,” said Ossoff. “I will continue to hold the Department of Defense accountable to demand data and results from them.”

“My message to them is we have your back and we won’t rest until we get to the bottom of what’s going on,” said Waltz.

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