As Housing Mold Derails Military Moves, This Is the Solution We Need

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Contracted personnel perform an accountability assessment and pack items belonging to a U.S. Soldier before her moving to a different state June 12, 2019. (U.S. Transportation Command/Stephenie Wade)
Contracted personnel perform an accountability assessment and pack items belonging to a U.S. Soldier before her moving to a different state June 12, 2019. (U.S. Transportation Command/Stephenie Wade)

Joyce Wessel Raezer is the outgoing executive director of the National Military Family Association.

‪Military families are at risk once again.

After suffering untenable living conditions, rodent and other infestations, loss of property and chronic health problems, military families dealing with mold in their privatized, on-base housing now face another challenge: moving.

While installations and contractors move ahead with remediating dangerous living conditions, many families must simultaneously navigate an unusually complex PCS season. And the damage done by the mold in their houses is affecting not just their furniture and their health, but also their ability to complete their PCS move on schedule. Shortages of movers as well as potential housing delays at installations where remediation work continues further complicate an already stressful time.

Moving companies, appropriately unwilling to assume the liability of moldy belongings that could create higher costs for themselves or safety problems for future customers, are now backing out of pack-outs in homes where mold is present, according to a story in Military Times. That includes the homes of thousands of families whose very safety has been affected by substandard conditions.

With orders in hand and report dates looming, families are put into another bind: Will they be forced to abandon or dispose of their household goods in order to PCS? Will they go into credit card debt to buy safe mattresses for their children to sleep on in their new homes? How ready will the service member be to carry out the mission of the new unit if the family arrives with few household goods or increased credit card debt because of the housing problems at their last assignment?

Military families aren't just caught between the housing contractors and the military that's supposed to oversee the contracts. They are now also caught between the military, the landlords and the movers.

This is unacceptable. ‪

The National Military Family Association (NMFA) has repeatedly called for an independent, neutral third-party arbiter to ensure that military families have somewhere to go when they can't get the help they need to remedy a problem with their housing.

Without that trusted third-party with the authority to cut through the red tape put up by both contractors and the military, families remain stuck in the middle. Military families need solutions, not a finger-pointing blame game.

NMFA is pleased that military leaders and housing contractors have worked together over the past few months to improve housing conditions. But impending PCS moves require them to step up those efforts and work with transportation providers to support these families.

Families whose homes are still undergoing remediation need help now.

Their service member has orders and those orders must be followed. Someone -- that independent arbiter -- is needed now, empowered to deal with not only the housing contractor and installation housing officials but also to have the authority to deal with the household goods transportation office when ongoing housing issues could affect the move.

NMFA believes the position of an independent, neutral third-party arbiter needs to be put in place at every installation now.

We have asked that this position be identified as a key component of the new military family tenant bill of rights now being circulated by the Department of Defense. This arbiter must have the authority to enforce actions by the government, housing contractor and family.

Without that help, families will remain in the middle and continue to face unsafe living conditions and potentially dangerous financial ramifications.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to opinions@military.com for consideration.

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