Thousands of US military service members live in squalid conditions and have to deal with unchecked sewage overflow, pests, and mold in their barracks, a new government report said.
At one facility, service members are responsible for “cleaning biological waste that may remain in a barracks room after a suicide,” said the Tuesday report filed by the Government Accountability Office, citing officials at the barracks. The GAO is an independent agency under Congress that audits and evaluates US government services.
Assessors said they toured at least 10 facilities and interviewed 12 discussion groups, and warned of “substandard” living conditions in barracks that they said undermine the readiness of US troops.
Seven of the 10 installations they visited “appeared to require significant improvement,” even though these facilities were scored above 80 out of 100 by the Defense Department, the report said.
These facilities house the military’s lowest-ranking personnel, such as US Army troops up to the rank of Sergeant, and Navy service members up to the rank of Petty Officer Third Class.
“Thousands of service members live in barracks below standards, according to officials,” the report said.
Military personnel in all 12 discussion groups said their barracks conditions affected their mental health, the report said. In some cases, the uncleanliness induced anxiety attacks and led to substance abuse, it added.
It said that the Pentagon has not done enough to check on and maintain these barracks, and made 31 recommendations to the Defense Department.
The report said service members in at least six of 12 discussion groups spoke of bedbugs, rodents, cockroaches, and wasps in their barracks. And service members living in at least five installations pointed to water quality problems.
“For example, service members in one discussion group told us tap water in their barracks is often brown and does not appear safe for drinking,” the report said.
It highlighted one installation visited in October, where one barracks was closed because officials found legionella bacteria in the building’s plumbing.
That barracks was only closed because it houses medical patients, and water testing had to be conducted there in line with health guidelines, the report said. However, the other barracks in the facility weren’t tested because it wasn’t required, the report added.
Mold was a problem for the service members in all 12 discussion groups, per the findings. Some personnel reported having to clean the mold themselves with chemicals, while at least one service member said they were hospitalized because of respiratory issues.
Ventilation, heating, and air conditioning systems were broken at all 10 facilities visited by investigators, the report said. Some installations had faulty fire safety systems, while at least three had broken windows and locks, they said.
In at least two installations, officials reported that squatters were living in vacant barracks rooms, according to GAO.
Service members in four of the 10 visited facilities also reported that the “conditions described above contributed to an environment where theft, property damage, and sexual assault were more likely,” per the report.
The report urged the Pentagon to update its minimum cleanliness standards for barracks, “conduct a systematic, objective analysis” of these conditions, and clarify policies on who is responsible for maintenance.
The Defense Department agreed with 23 of its 31 recommendations, and “partially concurred” with eight of them, the report said.
“GAO continues to believe DOD should fully implement all of these recommendations,” it added.
The Pentagon’s press department did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent outside regular business hours.
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