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Warren, Kaine, Hirono, Blumenthal, Murray, Duckworth Urge Pentagon to Implement Reforms and Address Substandard Housing Conditions for Military Families

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Personnel, Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Readiness, and Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requesting information on the Department of Defense’s (DoD) plans to address the unhealthy prevalence of mold, lead-based paint, and asbestos in housing for America’s service members, as well as concerns regarding the distrust and confusion surrounding the formal dispute resolution process that  military families can use to address disputes with the private housing companies. 

“We write in regard to concerning reports about asbestos, lead-based paint, and mold in military housing and DoD’s implementation of the formal dispute resolution process available to tenants in privatized military housing,” wrote the lawmakers. “We seek further information regarding steps that the Department of Defense are taking to address asbestos, lead-based paint, and mold in military housing units and improve implementation of the formal dispute resolution process.” 

A 2023 Army Audit found that the Army’s inspection program for asbestos and lead-based paint had failed to adequately ensure that homes were safe for families. The Army Audit Agency uncovered that 41 percent of the homes it reviewed “had no documented survey identifying the home’s asbestos risk areas.”

“We are highly alarmed by the consistent failure of the Army housing office inspectors to properly assess these homes and protect service members and their families from the hazards of asbestos and lead-based paint,” wrote the lawmakers.

Similarly, the DoD has failed to ensure that military families’ homes are free of mold. A family living on Marine Corps Base in Hawaii experienced a variety of concerning health conditions from exposure to mold such as “hair loss, bluish-gray skin, heart palpitations, fatigue, worsening headaches, rashes, and stomach problems.” The 2022 Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey found that almost a quarter of military families had “been exposed to environmental toxins” in their homes, with a 2021 survey respondent indicating that, “(i)t is almost as if the privatized housing office feels as though there will not be another large-scale inspection, so they just turn their blind eye to service members’ complaints of black mold growing in their homes.”

To address these problems, Congress established a formal dispute resolution process. However, the Government Accountability Office identified broader confusion among both military families and military housing officials on its implementation. Military families have also expressed concerns that they must agree to keeping any formal dispute resolution process confidential upon signing their lease, and the tendency for the process to favor the private housing companies.

“The Department of Defense has a long way to go to fully implement reforms and restore military families’ confidence,” wrote the lawmakers. “Military families should not be forced into a confidentiality clause if they choose to use the formal dispute resolution process to address unsafe housing conditions, and the Department needs to take steps to improve this process and protect service members and their families.”

Full text of the letter is available here.