Jacksonville Daily News
As U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis listened to military families with concerns about living conditions and issues with privatized base housing, he said their circumstances are not just personal.
When service members have to worry about the health and safety of their family while they are deployed or training it impacts military readiness, Tillis said.
Tillis said it is unacceptable for families to be living in unsafe or unhealthy conditions and a “dangerous distraction” for military personnel who need to be ready and focused on their mission at hand.
“It’s not just about people living in a house. It is about readiness,” Tillis said.
Tillis, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, held the town hall aboard Camp Lejeune Thursday to discuss issues affecting military families.
Service members and military families were invited to speak about their concerns and issues in an informal setting without having to provide their names.
Tillis has been working to address issues with the Military Housing Privatization Initiative and many of the concerns raised by those who spoke were related to base privatized housing.
One military spouse said they are living in a house that still hasn’t been fixed nearly a year after Hurricane Florence and they can’t get any response from the housing provider. Others had to leave their homes and in some cases remain displaced.
Whether it has been damage from Hurricane Florence or at other times, the military families present said it often takes a long time for repair orders to be processed and no way to ensure work was done properly. Others noted there is no way for families to know the history of the house they are moving into, such as the last time carpet was replaced or the air conditioning system was inspected.
Tillis said they are working on a number of ways to address the problems with the privatized housing, from additional funding to address repairs to ways to improve accountability.
The issues are not exclusive to families at Camp Lejeune.
Tillis said one of the problems is a lack of consistency between the processes for privatized housing not only across locations but across the different military branches.
“One of the problems we have is we have several different ways of doing housing across the globe,” he said. “Each line of service does it slightly different. The contracts we have with housing providers can be slightly different. In my opinion, housing is housing. I don’t care if you are a Marine, a soldier or an airman or sailor. So, the question is why are we doing it different and what’s the best practice?”
Another problem Tillis said he sees is many military families are young and are new to owning a home, new to military life and where they are living. They don’t always know what to do if there is a problem.
Tillis said he wants all families to know they can get help.
“What we are trying to communicate to the families is that they do have recourse,” Tillis said. “They need to contact my office or go to their chain of command. . . Some of the circumstances we heard of today were by every measure unacceptable.”
While many of the comments were about housing, the town hall was an opportunity to bring up other issues as well.
Several Lejeune High School students were also in attendance to show their opposition to a proposal to change the name of the high school to honor the late Congressman Walter Jones.
Senior Noah Tungett read a letter during the town hall and said the current name honors a great past military leader and provides a connection between the students and that military history.
Tillis said he is opposed to changing the name of Lejeune High School but not against honoring Congressman Jones.
“We need to find an appropriate way to honor Congressman Jones,” he said.
Sgt. Maj. Charles Metzger, Marine Corps Installations East, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, spoke as the town hall came to a close.
Metzger said he was “appalled” to hear some of the situations he heard about and encouraged anyone having issues to reach out and speak to their command to let them know what is going on.
“Let us know so we can get involved as well,” he said.
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