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Mold, raw sewage, brown tap water found in US barracks

Mold, raw sewage, brown tap water found in US barracks

A government watchdog found 'potentially serious risks' to the health of service members at multiple facilities.

Reporting | QiOSK

Government investigators found mold, gas leaks, brown tap water, and broken sewage pipes in U.S. military barracks despite record-high Pentagon spending, according to a major report released by the Government Accountability Office on Tuesday.

“We found that living conditions in some military barracks may pose potentially serious risks to the physical and mental health of service members, as well as their safety,” the GAO reported, noting that the conditions also impact troop readiness.

The independent investigation paints a shocking picture of the conditions at U.S. military barracks, which all enlisted service members must live in at the start of their military careers. As GAO notes, the problem is far from new. The watchdog issued several reports in the early 2000s that found widespread safety issues in barracks across the world, and conditions appear to have gotten worse in the intervening years.

The scathing report linked the poor conditions in barracks to the military’s ongoing issues with recruitment. “Thousands of service members come through this base for training every year and live in these barracks,” an anonymous enlisted officer told the GAO. “They go home and tell their friends and family not to join the military because of living conditions.”

GAO wrote that, as of last year, there was a $137 billion backlog of deferred maintenance costs for Pentagon facilities. Barracks and other “lower-priority facilities” are “chronically neglected and experience increased deterioration,” the report notes. The impressive sum represents a fraction of current military spending, which is set to reach $886 billion next year.

Investigators, who visited 10 barracks and held focus groups with service members, recommended 31 policy changes to increase oversight of the facilities and improve living conditions for service members. The Pentagon endorsed most of the suggestions and noted several cases in which efforts were already underway to address them.

One major target for reform is the Department of Defense’s scoring system for barracks, which rates each facility’s condition on a scale from 0 to 100. In a barrack near Washington, DC, with a score of 86, GAO investigators found that 25 percent of rooms had broken air conditioning systems, subjecting soldiers to excessive heat during the summer. They also found a dozen broken windows and 150 rooms with inadequate lighting.

According to GAO, soldiers at several different barracks were held responsible for removing any hazardous materials from their rooms, including mold or sewage. One service member told investigators that he had developed chronic wheezing due to frequent exposure to harsh chemicals used to clean mold. “There is a leak and black mold in the shower and maintenance still won’t fix it, no matter how often it is reported,” an anonymous soldier told GAO.

At one site, officials told the GAO that “service members are responsible for cleaning biological waste that may remain in a barracks room after a suicide.”

Broken windows and “insufficient security” have helped create conditions for crime in the barracks as well. Investigators found one site in which an unknown person had started squatting in a vacant room after climbing through a broken window, and in another case a soldier’s ex-spouse broke in and assaulted the service member in their room.

The pervasive safety issues in barracks “contributed to an environment where theft, property damage, and sexual assault were more likely,” the report notes.

Mold in barracks found during visits from Government Accountability Office investigators. (Image via GAO)
Reporting | QiOSK
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