Home, not so sweet home on military bases

Lew Sichelman

Navy Lt. Dwight Carter was thrilled to report to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 2018. HeI was selected to attend the US Army Command and General Staff College and was looking forward to furthering his career in the Navy through his studies at the prestigious military school.

But just weeks after he and his family moved into their base accommodation, Carter began to feel ill.

I experienced chronic and devastating symptoms ranging from cognitive, visual, auditory and memory impairment, tinnitus, arrhythmia, tachycardia, severe abdominal pain, incessant anxiety, numbness in arms and legs, extreme fatigue and many more, he said in a telephone interview.

After seeking medical attention from military and civilian doctors, Carter is convinced that the sources of his many ailments are the toxic mold, carbon monoxide, and lead paint, to which he and his family were exposed in their eight-plex unit and other base military housing. He specifically mentions a living room HVAC unit that has proven a petri dish from hell of contaminants.

CarterThe case is far from unique. Congressional watchdogs Government accountability office have examined multiple cases of illness and very poor housing on bases nationwides armed services. And they gave the military a low mark on how many servicemen and women were housed.

Toxic housing and retaliation

The Ministry of DefenseDisagree: Of the GAO’s dozen or so scathing findings and recommendations, DOD agrees with 10 and partially agrees with the other two.

But Carterthe grievanceDon’t stop at the supposedly toxic accommodation. Thiss also with what he describes as ineffective medical care from the army and navy, and misdiagnosis of his health issues as being psychological in nature.

He said a civilian doctor diagnosed him as suffering from acute, high-level exposure to toxic molds and more specifically to the poisons they produce, called mycotoxins. The exposure came from a water-damaged building ecosystem where mold grew relentlessly and its toxins permeated the living environment.

Other grievances he reports include retaliation, cover-ups, denial of medical care, negative staff actions and intimidation. I refer to him in this column by a pseudonym.

Worse still, his wife and children were even more exposed than his.

Since homeschooling my wife and children, they were constantly exposed with no relief while we were stationed in Kansas, he said. My wife had asthma attacks, tinnitus, numbness in her legs and arms, and three of our five children suffered from chronic cough and abdominal pain.

So far, his family has remained healthier than him. The officer continues to battle health issues, the most devastating being a lung disease that left him only 75 years old. percent of normal respiratory function.

A huge problem

The scale of the military housing problem is vast. Although more than half of the military live offsite, those who reside on base live in units that the Pentagon has contracted out to private companies. And there are many privatized houses: 202,000 units on 80 bases, according to the DOD.

As noted in this column earlier this year, the House of Representatives has asked the GAO to investigate concerns like those brought to the Senate. Overall, GAOs findings paint a picture of poor monitoring of housing conditions. Amplifying the preliminary recommendations reported earlier here, it reported four main results.

First of all, tMilitary departments do some monitoring of the physical condition of housing, but some efforts have been limited in scope.

For example, annual interior tours are limited to a few homes in certain facilities, which may not fully reflect the condition of the accommodations in those facilities., says the report.

Second, tMilitary departments use performance metrics to monitor private partners, but these metrics don’t provide meaningful information about housing condition.

A common indicator is how quickly the private partner responded to a work order, not whether the issue was actually resolved, says the report.

Third, GAO investigators found tMilitary departments and their private partners collect data on home maintenance, but this data is not captured reliably or consistently.

The DOD is expanding its use of work order data to monitor and track the condition of privatized housing. However, based on the GAOs analysis of data provided by the 14 private partners, this data cannot be reliably used for the ongoing monitoring of privatized housing due to data anomalies and inconsistent business practices in the way this data is collected, says the report.

Lately, The DOD provides reports to Congress on the status of privatized housing, but some of the data in these reports is unreliable, leading to misleading results, the report said

“We are invisible”

In all, the GAO made 12 recommendations: six to senior Pentagon brass and two to secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

In the meantime, however, many service members and veterans wonder if their health has been compromised by substandard housing and a seemingly indifferent or intimidating chain of command. Some probably share Carters feeling of despair: We are invisible, speechless. And we’ll be gone before anyone notices and cares.

He was asked if he wanted to add a recommendation to the GAOs to rectify what he called a debacle, Carter proposed this: Cancel private contracts and put the sleep merchants out of business. Bring housing in-house to DOD. Repair substandard housing by leveling it. Encourage business owners and home builders to come and build decent and healthy homes.

Finally, he thinks military spouses should be put on supervisory boards. It would be a really effective way to make sure everything stays in shape, it said.

Freelance writer Mark Fogarty contributed to this report

lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for over 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at [email protected]