'Worst They'd Ever Seen:' Lawmakers Urge Support for Military Barracks Improvements

Congresswoman Jackie Speier at Fort Hood, Texas.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, representative to California's 14th District, speaks with soldiers from 3rd Cavalry Regiment, Fort Hood, Texas, May 5, 2021. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Melissa N. Lessard)

Much attention has been drawn in the past three years to the deplorable condition of military family housing, but one particular segment -- barracks for unaccompanied service members -- needs more scrutiny, according to House lawmakers.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said Thursday that some of the barracks they've seen "showed years of neglect."

"I've been shocked by the poor conditions of the barracks that house our service members -- conditions that must be addressed to mitigate issues of safety, security and overall well-being [of] our service members," Escobar told members of the House Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies subcommittee, referring to unaccompanied housing at Fort Bliss, Texas.

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In a written statement to the panel, Speier said that, when she traveled to Fort Hood, Texas, last September with a congressional delegation to investigate the Vanessa Guillen case, the veterans with her described the barracks they visited as "the worst they'd ever seen."

After the delegation left, however, service members contacted her to say the group had been taken to one of the post’s nicer barracks, Speier said.

"I ask the subcommittee to support the Army's and all of the other services' plans to renovate unaccompanied personnel housing to ensure that all service members have safe, comfortable, and modern places to live," she said in her statement.

A scandal erupted in 2018 over the state of military family housing managed by private contractors, with reports of vermin and mold infestations; lead contamination; and shoddy construction, repairs and maintenance.

The military services launched a series of inspections and a number of fixes, to include instituting a Tenant Bill of Rights to improve service members' bargaining power to resolve problems.

Issues with military barracks, which are primarily run by the services but are in some cases managed under a public-private venture partnership with contractors, have largely flown under the radar.

A person familiar with conditions in the barracks at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, wrote Military.com last September saying junior Marines were living in older facilities contaminated with mold.

"It's pretty bad. Guys are constantly bleaching. Who is looking into that?" she asked.

The Army announced last year it plans to spend $10 billion to renovate and repair its barracks. According to Speier, 43% of the Army's barracks do not meet minimum acceptable standards.

The Navy and Marine Corps have a number of projects underway, but have not announced any major initiatives to overhaul all unaccompanied housing.

Air Force officials told the House subcommittee this week that they plan to request funds for a number of construction projects in the fiscal 2022 budget, but did not provide details.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said her subcommittee is supportive of efforts to improve service members' quality of life.

"We expect [the services] would be considering the quality of life and the impact on our troops' ability to do their jobs. You don't ask, you don't get. ... We expect them to ask," she said.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

Related: The Military's Expanded Tenant Bill of Rights Is About to Take Effect

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