Top Military Enlisted Say Housing And Pay Issues Hurt Recruitment, Retention
Authored by Michael Clements via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
The military’s top enlisted members say poor housing, health care, childcare, and pay problems are deleterious to recruiting and retention.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) claimed that a plan promoted by Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to freeze discretionary spending at FY 2022 levels would only make things worse.
“We can’t take a giant leap backward,” Wasserman Schultz said.
The highest-ranking enlisted people for each service testified in an oversight hearing of the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies on Feb. 28. They said the Department of Defense (DOD) must address quality of life issues.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston told the subcommittee that the problem extends beyond just soldiers’ morale. It could impact national security.
“This is an American problem,” he said.
Grinston said the Army had dedicated approximately $1.5 billion to family housing, soldiers’ barracks, and childcare facilities on Army posts worldwide. He said these problems are aggravating matters stemming from pay issues and increased demands on enlisted personnel.
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Honea agreed. He said that Navy hospitals in the Pacific Northwest had been recently downsized, forcing Navy personnel to drive farther from their bases for medical care. This only adds to the pressure already felt by many in the enlisted ranks.
“We will begin losing employees that are mission critical,” Honea said.
The housing issue began around the mid-1990s as military budgets were cut after the Cold War.
Approximately 180,000 housing units needed renovation or replacement at that time, according to the Military Housing Association (MHA).
In 1996, Congress authorized the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI). Under the MHPI, each branch contracted with private property managers to handle military housing. The MHA was formed to represent those property managers.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) had issued several reports documenting complaints about mold, pests, lack of maintenance, rundown housing units, and rude and indifferent responses from property managers when they requested help.
According to the most recent GAO report, DOD is increasing its oversight of the MHPI. However, it is hampered by the fact that it deals with civilian property managers.
Dealing With Civilians Complicates Things
“Nevertheless, oversight of the privatized family housing problem will likely continue to face challenges.
In part, because DOD cannot unilaterally make changes to projects without the concurrence of the private companies,” the March 2022 GAO report reads.
For example, the report mentions a Tenant Bill of Rights, which the DOD ordered by Congress to implement in February 2020. By March 2022, the managers of properties at five military installations had not agreed to the Bill of Rights.
Pay issues were further aggravating the problems, the military members said.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at least 20,000 military families, 213,000 National Guard and Reserve members, and 1.1 million veterans qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Grinston said the issue is “a math problem.”
He said that across-the-board pay increases don’t address the realities that enlisted troops face. While their pay increases, it doesn’t increase comparable to that of commissioned officers. As a result, enlisted pay often fails to keep pace with inflation, the cost of living where the troops live, and other factors.
“Inflation is real, the supply chain is real, these basic needs compete with one another,” said Sgt. Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black.
Grinston said all military branches are doing more to teach enlisted members money management skills. Ultimately DOD will have to develop a better formula for adjusting military pay, according to Grinston. He said that leaving this issue unaddressed would reflect poorly on the military.
“We really wouldn’t want our service members to be eligible for that benefit,” Grinston said.
Wasserman Schultz asked how a cut in the defense budget would impact the issues they had discussed.
She referenced a promise to hold discretionary spending to FY 2022 levels that the Republican “Freedom Caucus” got from McCarthy in his bid to become Speaker.
The plan does not exempt DOD. Wasserman Schultz said this could cost the military $4 billion in lost funding.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass said such a cut would force all the military services to decide which programs to cut.
“Any cut to those (housing, childcare, health care) would put your services in a position where they have to make those very tough decisions.”
Mon, 03/06/2023 – 23:00