At the end of January and early February, there has been a flurry of reporting on issues related to the living conditions faced by active military participants. Promises are being made to the press and to Congress, but it is clear that these are long-standing issues that have been ignored or “solved” with window-dressing only.

(photo from Department of Defense)

More than a year ago, in December 2022, the Inspector General of the Department of Defense released a report that said that a major factor in unsafe conditions in military housing came from the sheer inability of the military to track what the issues are. In June 2021, the Army could only report on the health of 41% of their members who were living in privatized housing and the Air Force could identify only 25%. Since 99% of all military housing has been privatized, these numbers mean that the Army doesn’t know what health challenges are being experienced by 60% of the troops, not to mention their families. Without that data, the report noted that “the DoD lacked sufficient information to determine the association of adverse housing exposures with the occurrence of a medical event across the Military Services.”

More recently, there have been reports of undrinkable water, cockroaches, lead paint and asbestos, and black mold. At the same time, there have been multiple reports criticizing the military’s oversight. The Army Audit Agency said that “Army housing supervisors didn’t provide effective oversight” and sometimes don’t even “fully understand” their duty to provide oversight. A September 2023 report from the Government Accountability Office put the issue in stark terms in its title Military Barracks: Poor Living Conditions Undermine Quality of Life and Readiness. In 118 pages, the report concluded that there was an overall lack of oversight from the Defense Department and made 31 recommendations calling for changes by each branch as well as by the Secretary of Defense.

The seemingly never-ending stream of reports about housing conditions is not only a threat to the health and safety of the military participants and their families. In a time of continuing shortfalls in recruiting, the former leader of the Army’s Recruiting Command said that providing quality housing to troops and their families was a fundamental part of the recruitment and retention effort. On the day of this post (2/7/24), the Marines “vowed” to inspect every barracks but said that it will also take at least a decade to make changes. By the time that decade has passed, every supposed leader who has made those vows will be gone and forgotten. Promise after promise to make improvements fly in the face of years, if not decades, of prior broken promises.