A military career is one of sacrifice. Soldiers must deploy to where the government tells them too, whether that’s overseas or in another state. Military families expect to spend their lives moving around, leading to “military brats,” or children who often move several times through their childhood. Spouses likewise face challenges when it comes to establishing a stable career.
To be sure, there are benefits to military careers. Generally competitive salaries, good retirement benefits, access to healthcare, etc. One major benefit is housing, but increasingly, military families are finding themselves housed in substandard units on base.
Many housing units are provided by private companies, and in some cases, those companies appear to be providing inadequate housing. This isn’t just about “bells and whistles” but basic health standards. A Reuters investigation, for example, found that several families living in housing units on Camp Pendleton provided by Lincoln Military Housing were heavily infested with mice.
One father claimed picking his two-year-old son up out of bed, only to find mice feces stuck to the poor child. The situation was so bad that the family moved off base, taking a $4,000 loan out to cover costs. After they moved out, Lincoln Military Housing turned around and slapped the family with a thousand dollar bill to replace rodent- contaminated carpet.
Lincoln Military Housing was willing to drop the bills, if and only if the family agreed to sign a non-disclosure agreement and to stop posting about their experience on social media. The family refused. The situation got so bad that the serviceman in question ended his military career.
In another case involving yet another military contractor, a family had to pay $1,500 out of their own pocket to clean out their house’s air ducts because their child was suffering from respiratory problems. The company in question, Patrician, refused to reimburse them.
Unfortunately, families living on military bases don’t have the same rights as people living elsewhere. Under many state laws, tenants have legal recourse if their units are infested with vermin. Under military regulations, they have much less recourse.
The Reuters investigation looked into the living situations of more than a hundred families. They found vermin, mold, and other infestations. Yet when those families sought recourse, they found that they had few options. Unless you count leaving the military altogether as recourse, often having to shut up and put up.
Speaking to Reuters, Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer noted: “We have an entire segment of society that is putting its life on the line for the rest of us, and effectively they are walled off from accessing these laws and the remedies under them.”
We Americans need to ask if that’s acceptable, especially given all the sacrifices our soldiers are expected to make.
If the allegations are as bad as alleged, it demonstrates yet another problem of allowing private companies to provide what should be public services. Our soldiers should expect and enjoy high-quality housing. Likely, many companies are working hard to provide such housing. Still, private companies often put profits before people.
Is that acceptable for our soldiers? I’d argue not. At the very least, military families should have rights and access to recourse that is on par with, if not exceeding, those that the general public enjoy. Forcing military personnel to accept anything less is an insult to their service and sacrifices.