By: Sens. Jim Inhofe and Jack Reed
Every day, across the globe, the 2.15 million men and women of the United States military go above and beyond to defend our nation. And while our troops are defending our families, we have a solemn responsibility to support and protect theirs.
Military families are the awesome force behind our armed forces, making tough sacrifices so their loved ones may serve. These spouses and children shoulder heavy burdens that include frequent moves, long stretches of separation from deployed loved ones and the uncertainty and consequences of war, but one hardship military families should never face is unsafe housing here at home. Yet, too many military families have found themselves living in unsuitable, unacceptable conditions.
About 20 years ago, we faced a similar situation. On-base housing had fallen into a state of disrepair. Working with the Department of Defense, we started the Military Housing Privatization Initiative to correct this, and, for a period, things began improving for many. But recently, we learned that there was a major disconnect between the promised reforms and the reality for many military families in on-base housing.
As the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, we are grateful to have heard directly from military families across the country who have sounded the alarm about unsafe, substandard housing.
From shoddy construction; to mold and radon gas causing respiratory and other health issues; to rodent and bug infestations — these families endured poor conditions and shabby treatment that no one, let alone military families, should endure. Disturbingly, little to nothing was being done by our military leaders and housing contractors to fix it.
Earlier this year, we initiated a series of hearings to drill down on the scope of the problem and develop effective solutions and improvements. After hearing testimony from military families, CEOs of housing management corporations and the nation’s service secretaries and top uniformed officers, we are pleased to report that all services have taken immediate, significant steps to provide better housing.
According to data provided by the services, every tenant in privatized housing has been contacted for home visits. Tens of thousands of homes and apartments have been inspected by commanders. Nearly 13,000 work orders were created as a result of those inspections, with many of those having been completed to the satisfaction of residents. In the Army alone, nearly 500 families have been quickly moved into alternative housing since February.
In addition, we, along with our colleagues and staff on the Senate Armed Services Committee, have recently visited a number of military installations, including Fort Bragg, N.C.; Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.; Naval Station Newport, R.I.; Naval Station Norfolk, Va.; Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Va.; and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, D.C.; to investigate these problems. We made it clear to both military leaders and housing companies that we are keeping close tabs on their progress and are committed to charting a better path forward.
While these are good steps, we must do more. It’s time for lasting, legal change that provides military families — the backbone of our national defense — with the relief and stability they deserve. This week we will unveil new legislation, as part of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, to reform military privatized housing.
Our bill will take a hard line: providing recourse to affected families, reengaging the chain of command, increasing oversight and holding housing companies accountable. Our military officials and contractors know they must take responsibility, implement serious, meaningful change, and take steps to earn back your trust — and this legislation provides them with additional, concrete steps to do so.
May is Military Appreciation Month, but our commitment to serve military families better endures each and every day. Going forward, we will be keeping this issue in the spotlight with additional hearings in Washington and at bases around the country. And we will work with our colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives to ensure our bipartisan reforms become law.
Our military families represent what’s great about our country — and we will always remember and honor that. With stronger oversight and new reforms, we will fix the broken military housing system.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, is the committee’s ranking member.