The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reported that American military personnel are residing in barracks that have issues with mold and sewage backup.
Government investigators have recently discovered various health risks in several barracks where individual military personnel reside. These hazards include mold, discolored tap water, and infestations of bugs. In a particular incident, enlisted troops residing in these barracks were instructed to handle the disposal of biological waste after a suicide occurred in one of the rooms.
The Government Accountability Office has recently published a report that raises concerns about the management of housing for service members by the Defense Department. The report highlights ongoing reports of substandard conditions in military barracks, both domestically and internationally.
The investigators toured barracks rooms at 10 military installations across the country, where they met with enlisted residents and officials. The troops told them the conditions of the barracks were affecting their quality of life and military readiness.
According to the report from GAO auditors, the congressional watchdog agency, they have noticed barracks that may have significant health and safety concerns. These concerns include broken windows and fire systems that do not work, as well as not meeting the minimum privacy and configuration standards set by the Defense Department. Officials have stated that numerous service members reside in substandard barracks.
At one of the military bases — not identified in the report — the investigators noticed a foul odor throughout one of the barracks. They were told the smell was methane gas leaking out of “aging plumbing” with sewage pipes that routinely crack and require replacement.
The GAO stated that these officials recognized the health hazards associated with being exposed to methane gas.
Mississippi Sen. Roger F. Wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the report’s findings “shameful” and said it was troubling for the future of the military.
On Tuesday, he stated that it is crucial to ensure the safety of our service members’ living and working environment. Neglecting this fundamental need negatively impacts their readiness and hinders recruitment and retention efforts.
Mr. Wicker mentioned that the Senate defense budget for this year incorporates enhanced supervision of military housing and intends to establish “basic habitability standards.” Additionally, specific funding will be allocated to tackle certain issues.
Mr. Wicker stated that we are dedicated to addressing these challenges through a conference.
Some troops in the barracks were told that basic pest control and even removing serious hazards like mold or sewage were their responsibility. The investigation revealed differing levels of mold and mildew inside both vacant and occupied rooms. The GAO investigators interviewed one barracks resident who was hospitalized with a respiratory illness linked to mold inside the room.
According to the GAO report, the service member was relocated to a mold-free barracks after three trips to the emergency room, resulting in the resolution of their medical problems.
All of the 10 bases mentioned in the GAO report had issues with heating or air conditioning in their barracks. A soldier described the experience of sleeping in a room with a malfunctioning air conditioner during the summer as being similar to standing on the scorching surface of the sun. The investigators stated that even though temperatures can go above 90 degrees in the summer, residents of the barracks are often compelled to purchase their own space heaters during the winter, despite the potential danger of fire.
The GAO investigators were informed by troops that inadequate barracks conditions can have a negative impact on the mental well-being of service members. Some expressed feeling down when returning to a gloomy living space after work, while others suggested a possible connection between barracks quality and the military’s issue with suicide.
The GAO reported that the Defense Department lacks proper monitoring of military barracks conditions. In their request for approximately $15 billion for facility maintenance in fiscal year 2024, the Pentagon failed to specify the amount allocated for barracks. Additionally, the Defense Department had no knowledge of the funds allocated for housing allowances of military personnel who were unable to reside in the barracks due to limited space or substandard living conditions.
According to the report, having comprehensive funding details would assist the Defense Department in identifying areas for improvement and gaining a better understanding of overall expenses.