Some junior service members are living in overcrowded barracks with severe maintenance problems that fall well short of the Department of Defense (DOD)’s privacy and health standards, posing serious risk to servicemembers, according to a government report released Tuesday.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) inspected ten different, non-generalizable housing campuses and interviewed installation officials and barracks residents to determine whether the DOD is paying attention to barracks conditions and remedying problems, according to the report. Barracks quality directly affects quality of life and morale, potentially influencing a person’s decision to reenlist, while reports of poor conditions can discourage civilians from considering military service, GAO warned.
“We found that living conditions in some military barracks may pose potentially serious risks to the physical and mental health of service members, as well as their safety. During site visits, we observed a variety of living conditions that service members and unit leaders told us were negatively affecting them,” GAO wrote.
Senior enlisted servicemembers told GAO conditions at one dormitory were “unacceptable,” and impeded their ability to care for the junior members under their supervision, according to GAO. Former residents, all junior enlisted, recalled enduring months-long hot water interruptions, clogged showers, broken door locks, broken elevators and mold infestation.
In another barracks in the Washington, D.C. metro area, where summer temperature highs can reach beyond 90 degrees, only about a quarter of the rooms had working air conditioning. Another had methane gas spreading throughout the hallways, leaked from cracked sewage pipes. Service members and first sergeants at several dorms described unresolved problems with pests, bacteria and dirty tap water.
“One service member told us that trying to sleep in a barracks room is like standing in the sun all night because of broken air conditioning,” GAO wrote.
GAO heard about broken fire safety systems at four installations, a major safety hazard.
Officials at one barracks said servicemembers were left to scourge dorms of “biological waste” left after a suicide, according to GAO.
However, the services’ headquarters are generally aware of persistent issues regarding housing quality. GAO found documentation belonging to the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps detailing the work and funding required to improve barracks.
However, competing priorities could continue to strain the military’s facilities budget even if it received the $15 billion requested for fiscal year 2024, according to GAO.
In addition, the military services have not set up a way to reliably monitor the condition of the barracks, GAO found. Seven of the ten barracks investigators visited needed significant improvement even though they scored high on a condition scale, according to the report.
“Enlisted service members from all military services told us poor living conditions negatively affect work performance, training, and DOD’s ability to recruit qualified personnel,” GAO wrote. A DOD Status of Forces survey from 2019 found that personnel living in barracks described lower life satisfaction that those who lived in privatized housing off-base.
“No military service has fulfilled DOD requirements to periodically evaluate the effects of barracks conditions on service members’ reenlistment decisions,” GAO wrote.
DOD and the separate services agreed with most of GAO’s findings and recommendations, pledging to update the minimum standards and improve oversight procedures.
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