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Troops plagued by filthy conditions, squatters in military barracks: report

The Government Accountability Office released a new 118-page report detailing substandard living conditions faced by young troops living in barracks across the country.

A new government report detailed the dire living conditions some military members face in their barracks across the country, highlighting a problem military leaders have so far struggled to fix.

A report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that young troops living in barracks on military installations have been forced to confront everything from pests such as roaches and bed bugs to toxic waste and even squatters, potentially putting the health and safety of members at risk while damaging morale.

The 118-page report, which was published Monday by the GAO, concluded that military leaders at the Pentagon have not been able to provide proper oversight over the problem and have mostly left the issues up to each individual service to fix. 

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Investigators from the GAO visited 12 unnamed military installations to compile the report and spoke with service members in discussion groups to gain their perspective. Many service members complained of dirty water that was seemingly unsafe to drink in their barracks buildings. Others complained of broken air conditioning and heating systems, forcing many members to purchase individual air conditioning units for their sweltering rooms or turn to unsafe space heaters to provide warmth in the colder months. Another issue noted by investigators was that some buildings lacked secure windows and doors that have in some cases led to squatters occupying the rooms.

In one extreme case, officials at one installation told GAO investigators that "service members are responsible for cleaning biological waste that may remain in a barracks room after a suicide."

The GAO report included dozens of photos of military barracks buildings from the installations investigators visited, with the photos showing restrooms with sewage overflowing, cracked sewage pipes, water damage, pests and mold or mildew growth. Other photos showed the possessions belonging to apparent squatters who were not authorized to be living in the buildings.

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The report blamed systems for too slowly responding to living conditions in the buildings, with inconsistent evaluation systems that often fail to pick up on issues before conditions deteriorate further. The report also noted a lack of universal standards for health and safety, with no rules preventing installations and services from assigning troops to substandard living spaces.

Barracks rooms are most often occupied by the military's youngest and lowest ranking members, many of whom have just graduated from basic and job training and moved on to their first duty station.

While the report noted that it was unclear exactly how many of the service members are living in substandard conditions as a result of a lack of universal tracking, it is likely that "at least thousands of service members are affected" by the poor barracks quality.

The GAO finished by issuing 31 recommendations for the Defense Department to "provide guidance on barracks condition assessments, obtain complete funding information, and increase oversight of barracks programs."

"DOD concurred with 23 of the recommendations and partially concurred with 8, in some cases noting ongoing actions that would address them. GAO continues to believe DOD should fully implement all of these recommendations," the report notes.

Reached for comment by Fox News Digital, a GAO spokesperson said that the problems "we detail in our report are the result of chronic neglect and underfunding, as military officials chose to spend limited resources on facilities deemed higher priority than barracks because of their link to operational capabilities and mission readiness."

The spokesperson added that the Defense Department "needs to establish clearer standards for barracks quality and hold the military services accountable for meeting them" and also "needs to develop a joint strategy for improving barracks conditions, in part by collecting more accurate and comprehensive data on how much funding DOD spends on barracks, what the condition of individual facilities is, and how service members assigned to barracks feel about their living conditions."

"Last, DOD needs to reexamine its policies about which service members are required to live in barracks, both because this problem will not be fixed overnight and because existing policies have led to a perception of inequity among junior enlisted service members," the spokesperson said. "The 31 recommendations in our report are designed to address all of these needs."

Meanwhile, Brendan Owens, the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Energy Installations and Environment and Chief Housing Officer, told Fox News Digital that the Defense Department has at times "failed" to fulfill its role when it comes to ensuring proper living spaces for troops.

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"In return for the commitment and sacrifices that Service members make when they volunteer to defend our nation, the Department of Defense has a moral obligation to ensure that the places they live and work dignify their service," Owens said. "The DoD has, in too many instances, failed to live up to our role in making sure housing for our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Guardians honors their commitment and enables them to bring the best versions of themselves to their critical missions."

"To the service members who have experienced serious issues with their unaccompanied housing: I commit to act," he continued. "I will move out aggressively to increase oversight and accountability in government-owned unaccompanied housing and to address unacceptable living conditions impacting our service members."

Owens added that his office plans to work with the individual branches to ensure that service members "have a safe and secure place to live."

"Collectively, we will improve our responsiveness to your concerns as we strive to ensure a living experience that enhances your wellbeing and readiness so that you can defend the citizens of the United States as part of the finest military in the history of the world," Owens said.

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