(WASHINGTON) — Capt. Samuel Choe, a former resident of Fort Gordon in Georgia, flew 17 hours from his deployment in South Korea to testify before a Senate subcommittee Tuesday about the mold exposure he said his family endured in private military housing and the chronic health issues suffered by his 8-year-old daughter, including a skin condition called severe atopic dermatitis — or severe eczema.
The degree of her condition, which he described as “potentially fatal,” had caused her to wake up in the middle of the night to parts of her body caked in blood from minor scratches or irritation, he said, adding that it would “haunt” his daughter “for the rest of our lives.”
“I do not recall ever seeing the type [of] conditions that we have lived under while we were at Fort Gordon,” said Choe, who has served in the military for 12 years and grew up in military housing with his parents.
Choe was among the family members and advocates who testified Tuesday at the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations about what they said was mismanagement, neglect and abuse they suffered in private military housing paid for using defense appropriations funds for service members’ on-base accommodations.
Their concerns — focused on one of the Army, Air Force and Navy’s largest private housing providers, Balfour Beatty — ranged from environmental hazards, including unaddressed mold, to logistical failures leading to delayed repairs. In total, Balfour provides housing on 55 separate Army, Navy and Air Force bases across 26 states, with a total of over 43,000 on-base homes occupied by roughly 150,000 residents, according to the company.
The hearing was held hours after the subcommittee released a bipartisan “Mistreatment of Military Families in Privatized Housing” report detailing alleged negligent responses and deceitful practices by Balfour Beatty.
The same company pleaded guilty last year to fraud after a Department of Justice investigation that uncovered instances of falsified data in Balfour’s internal data management software. Artificially augmenting the number of resolved work orders allowed Balfour employees to receive larger bonuses — which at the time was part of the company’s financial compensation policy, the probe found.
The plea deal included a $65 million fine and three-year probation during which an independent compliance body monitors the company’s activity.
The report released Tuesday specifically examines conditions at Balfour housing units on Georgia’s Fort Gordon Army Base and Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas between late 2019 and early 2022.
Tech. Sgt. Jack Fe Torres, who said his wife and children also suffered a host of medical problems after being exposed to mold in a Balfour home at Sheppard Air Force Base also testified. The family’s issues began with an insufficient water heater repair, he said, which led to a flood and then to mold.
While trying to address this issue, Torres said he noticed that work orders submitted to Balfour on his family’s behalf were doctored to minimize the severity of the situation.
“At one point, we were told that a large spot of mold in our mechanical room wall was just a burn mark,” he said.
The hearing included interviews with over a dozen military families and former Balfour employees. Two Balfour executives, including President of Facility Operations, Renovation and Construction Richard Taylor, testified as well.
“I reject the suggestion that it’s a systemic failure,” he said in response to Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., detailing a host of concerns flagged by residents. Taylor suggested Choe’s daughter, for example, could have contracted her illness outside the home.
Paula Cook, Balfour’s vice president of military community management, said the company did all it could for its residents.
Both insisted they were not aware of the data manipulation that had occurred, insisted there was no longer fraudulent activity going on at Balfour and said the issues the company was accused of were isolated and unrelated. An unnamed third party now fields Balfour military housing complaint calls, they testified, and the company has a new system to keep Balfour on-site employees from editing work order histories.
At one point, Ossoff bluntly asked, “Did your senior executives know that for six years, the company was engaging in fraud?”
Taylor said that “no,” he did not.
Ossoff followed up: “Would you know now if your company was continuing to engage in fraud?”
“Yes,” Taylor responded.
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