Exclusive: Senators launch inquiry into health impact on military families in unsafe housing
A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators is demanding answers about the links between potential health problems and unsafe housing conditions for military families living in privatized housing.
It comes as we’ve been investigating reports of unsafe living conditions like mold and sewage for military families living in homes operated by private housing companies on-base.
Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) led the bipartisan letter sent to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on March 21.
“We need now to understand the impact on health,” Sen. Ossoff told our Washington News Bureau. “What is the impact of dilapidated and poorly maintained housing on the health of the families who are in these homes?”
Two Florida Republicans co-signed the letter with Ossoff: Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
It asks the DoD for information about how it tracks the health impacts and how it is using the data.
The bipartisan inquiry stems from findings in an Office of Inspector General (OIG) report for the Defense Department last year.
That OIG report found the “DoD lacked sufficient information to determine the association of adverse housing exposures to the occurrence of a medical event across the military services.”
The OIG report went on to say that because of the insufficient information, the DoD was “unable to effectively monitor and ensure the health and safety of its service members and their families.”
“Due to this lack of information, the military services were unable to consistently track housing conditions that may have led to asthma, lead poisoning, cancers and other adverse conditions among service members and their families,” the Senators’ letter said.
The letter asks for a “prompt response” from the DoD about how it is planning to track the full implementation of a system designed to gather this information, and about how the DoD will use that data.
The health impact is a concern many military families we’ve been speaking with for months have flagged as their biggest worry.
Washington Correspondent Samantha Manning asked Ossoff about their concerns.
“One military spouse told me, ‘this is a public health crisis for a subset of people,’ meaning military families. Do you agree with that assessment?” Manning asked.
“I think we have a crisis of housing quality and a potential health crisis for military families that requires an investigation,” said Ossoff. “That’s why we launched this bipartisan investigation.”
Sen. Ossoff led a bipartisan investigation last year that exposed the extent of the poor quality of housing for military families.
It revealed military families have been dealing with repeated maintenance problems like mold and structural issues, and often face challenges when trying to resolve the issues.
Now, Ossoff said the focus is on learning more about the health impact these housing problems are having on the families.
Addressing unsafe housing conditions has been a focus for Senators on the Armed Services Committee, too.
“I want to make sure we really understand where the housing problems are and what caused them and how we can fix it,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
We asked Sen. Ossoff if the housing problems persist, should lawmakers or the Defense Department step in and terminate the housing contracts?
“If these contractors cannot provide adequate and safe housing to military families, they shouldn’t be in the business of providing that housing,” responded Ossoff. “That’s the bottom line.”
This latest inquiry comes after our investigation revealed some of the housing companies contracted with the military are making military families sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) when trying to get housing problems fixed.
That led Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and several other Senators to send a letter to the DoD in December calling for a stop to the use of NDAs and for information about how often that happens.
Last month, Warren told us: “If we can’t see a really steep curve in terms of fixing those problems, then I want to talk to the Department of Defense about terminating the contracts.”