Pentagon says it ‘failed’ troops, vows to improve housing

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(The Center Square) – The U.S. Department of Defense vowed to improve the conditions in barracks for U.S. troops after a report detailed widespread problems with military housing.

A 118-page report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office laid bare the conditions of the barracks that house some military service members. The report detailed sewage backups and inoperable fire systems among the safety hazards that U.S. service members living in barracks face. It found that such conditions undermine quality of life and military readiness.

“In return for the commitment and sacrifices that Service members make when they volunteer to defend our nation, the Department of Defense has a moral obligation to ensure that the places they live and work dignify their service,” said Brendan Owens, assistant secretary of Defense, Energy Installations and Environment and Chief Housing Officer. “The DOD has, in too many instances, failed to live up to our role in making sure housing for our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Guardians honors their commitment and enables them to bring the best versions of themselves to their critical missions.”

Problems with barracks, where military members live during initial training, have existed for decades. The Department of Defense has not fully funded its facilities program for years leading to a backlog of at least $137 billion in deferred maintenance costs as of fiscal year 2020, according to the Government Accountability Office report.

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the report troubling.

“This report’s findings are shameful and troubling for the future of our force,” he said. “Our servicemembers deserve a safe place to live and work. Failing to provide this basic necessity harms readiness and discourages recruitment and retention.”

U.S. military services generally require enlisted service members in certain ranks without dependents to live in barracks.

The Government Accountability Office report made 31 recommendations to the Department of Defense to improve conditions at barracks.

“Poor living conditions in these facilities affect service members’ quality of life and undermine readiness and mission,” according to the report’s conclusion. “Improving barracks conditions and addressing the quality-of-life and morale issues associated with poor conditions has multiple facets – including funding, oversight, and collaboration – and addressing these issues will require DOD to take actions in multiple areas.”

Owens vowed to make changes.

“To the service members who have experienced serious issues with their unaccompanied housing: I commit to act,” he said. “I will move out aggressively to increase oversight and accountability in government-owned unaccompanied housing and to address unacceptable living conditions impacting our service members. My office will work with the Military Departments to ensure that you have a safe and secure place to live. Collectively, we will improve our responsiveness to your concerns as we strive to ensure a living experience that enhances your wellbeing and readiness so that you can defend the citizens of the United States as part of the finest military in the history of the world.”

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