Ads featuring men and women in uniform are sure to flash across your television screen this holiday season. Some service members will receive new cars and others, sparkly jewelry. But, in reality, the needs of many military families are much simpler: they want relief from the poor living conditions in privatized military housing.
Last week, a group of military families traveled to Washington, D.C. to voice their concerns to the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee for the third time this year.
Maureen Elliott, a mother of five, flew her family from Fort Hood, where her husband is stationed, to hear testimony from high-ranking officials in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. Mold issues have plagued three of her previous on-base houses, causing sickness in all her children. Their clothes have been ruined by mold exposure, and most of their undamaged belongings fit inside a minivan.
But this isn't an isolated incident.
Maureen represents just one of nearly 17,000 military families nationwide who responded to the Military Family Advisory Network's (MFAN) survey in February, which covered systemic issues plaguing privatized housing across the country.
Families reported living in homes with mold growing in the air ducts, on the walls, and along leaking windowsills and doorways. They reported mushrooms growing up through filthy, uncleaned carpets. They reported rat and pest infestations. And they reported the presence of lead paint, which was poisoning their children. At Fort Hood, 52% of respondents shared issues of delayed maintenance and repairs.
Help was slow to come, if it came at all.
Military families bravely told military officials, Congress, and the housing companies about these ongoing issues for the first time under oath on February 13, where everyone involved expressed a willingness to get to the bottom of the issue.
But eight months later, in a new research effort, data indicates that 72% of families are still reporting that they haven't seen meaningful change.
When families like the Elliotts are asked to sacrifice through 18 years of wartime service, they learn to be resourceful and resilient. They don't complain. They make do. But this has gone on for too long.
Until MFAN conducted its survey, no one was aware of how widespread the housing issues were, but now, thanks to the military families who were willing to speak up, we know precisely how systemic the problem is.
Congress has taken time this year to investigate. They’ve listened to families like Maureen's, met with organizations supporting military families, and heard the housing companies' side of the story. Proposed solutions, like a Tenant Bill of Rights, which would provide military families with recourse and resources when faced with housing issues, have been promised but not yet delivered.
Families have been waiting too long.
There needs to be collaboration across public and private entities so that military families have safe, fair, and affordable housing opportunities, regardless where they choose to live. That is why, in January, MFAN will convene the Military Housing Roundtable, which will help us all work together and provide meaningful support for military families. This roundtable will create channels for open conversation, allow for more frequent reporting of progress and problems, and provide a forum to develop solutions not impeded by political agendas.
There are many organizations and agencies, public and private, with a vested interest in supporting military families' well-being and ensuring access to healthy, safe, and affordable housing, so let's work together to ensure that our service members can count on us for the basics — a warm, safe, healthy home for their families, and the certainty that their concerns will be taken seriously.
Razsadin is an active duty Navy spouse, mom, and the executive director of the Military Family Advisory Network.