Proposed legislation supported by MOAA and other military advocacy groups would require the Defense Department to track the effects of toxins and other safety hazards on residents of substandard military housing, among other safeguards.
Unlike other housing bills introduced recently, the Military Housing Oversight and Service Member Protection Act (S. 1229) ensures medical care for dependents who have suffered illnesses related to their time in military housing. The bill also increases overall oversight and establishes tenant protections.
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MOAA has heard from and worked with several families who have cited not just serious and unsanitary living conditions, but also unresponsive housing companies and a fear of reprisal if complaints are taken up a servicemember’s chain of command.
In February, MOAA entered a statement of concern over the status of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative to a subpanel of the Senate Armed Services Committee, where military spouses testified about vermin infestations and mold problems in their homes.
“MOAA has been vigilant in providing a voice for military families affected by health and safety hazards in military housing, collecting stories and photos to help bring these problems to light,” said Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret), MOAA’s president and CEO. “MOAA supports this robust legislation as it holds our government and public-private partners accountable for quality housing and services, ensures transparency of policies and procedures and establishes stricter ethics guidelines. Additionally, it is important that individuals affected by health hazards in military housing are extended health care even after time in service, and this legislation does just that.”
Nearly all of the homes on military installations are privately managed, as part of a 1996 deal that was meant to address concerns with run-down housing owned by DoD. The Military Housing Privatization Initiative leases homes to privately owned companies to manage and maintain.
The bill, was introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) in the Senate and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) in the House. Among its provisions:
- The secretary of defense would establish formal, written guidance for entering into and renewing all housing contracts. The secretary also could withhold funds if the housing provider is found in material breach of the contract and rescind the contract if the provider does not take corrective action.
- The secretary also would standardize all lease agreements across the DoD for privatized housing residents.
- The base housing office would be required to have access to the installation’s maintenance work order system.
- Tenants could withhold their Basic Allowance for Housing if the provider hasn’t met established guidelines, or if the house is uninhabitable according to state and local law.
- The secretary of defense would be required to establish a public complaint database accessible by all tenants, and could require providers to respond to all complaints.
- DoD would be required to establish a presumption of service-connected disability for all servicemembers, and would provide lifetime healthcare coverage for all dependents who develop environmentally caused medical conditions.
“The impacts of substandard housing can linger for a lifetime,” Warren said on her website. “My plan would require DoD to establish a health register for service members and families, and to screen and track for medical conditions acquired as a result of unsafe housing. Where the science tells us that a medical condition is environmentally-caused as a result of living in base housing, we should establish the presumption of a service-connected disability so that servicemembers can receiving ongoing care even after they leave the military.”
Amanda Dolasinski is MOAA’s staff writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMOAA.