YinYang/iStock(WASHINGTON) — In an emotionally-charged congressional hearing centered on military families' living conditions, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., suggested "there are clear indications of fraud” in the program that administers payment to the contractors that provide housing.
Blumenthal described the situation as criminal on Thursday during a Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing where military leaders testified about substandard housing. His comments came nearly a month after several military spouses testified on Capitol Hill to living in inadequate housing with black mold, lead paint and vermin.
Blumenthal said he “would recommend that these issues be referred to the United States Department of Justice for investigation.”
He has called for an immediate, intensive review, asking military chiefs to bypass internal audits and go straight to the DOJ to find out why contractors were allegedly not maintaining government housing while receiving funds for maintenance and rent.
He also had strong words for contractors who he says took advantage of the situation.
“They are landlords they may be slumlords, they’ve counted on this cash cow, it is a risk-free cash cow,” Blumenthal said.
Military leaders agreed.
“I think we should pursue any fraud and hold people accountable if that’s the case.” Army Secretary Mark Esper said.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told the committee “once Navy audit has the data then DOJ would be involved."
All four military services are preparing a joint Tenant Bill of Rights and said in a statement on Wednesday that the regulations are “intended to increase the accountability of privatized housing companies by putting more oversight authority in the hands of local military leaders."
During the hearing, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, said she and her ex-husband Gail Ernst, who served as an Army Ranger for several decades, lived in inadequate housing.
“I remember living in Indian Head at Fort Benning, Georgia, and the roaches were horrible. So bad that my husband an I had to move into another set of quarters. They couldn’t get rid of them. But we had to do it at our own expense,” Sen. Ernst recalled.
When the couple moved to Eglin Air Force Base, she said the housing situation wasn’t much better.
“The mold problems in Florida are horrible,” she said.
Ernst said that some of her neighbors “were subjected to holes in the walls, you could see daylight.”
To get the issue fixed, Ernst said “it took a lot of arguing between the service branches to get that taken care of. This shouldn’t happen.”
“I thought that would be alleviated 20-25 years later. Obviously, it hasn't,” Ernst said.
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