Must Do More For Military Families, Veterans

May 5, 2019

A life in the military can be uniquely rewarding. There is no greater honor than serving your country, and there is no greater bond than the one shared by the men and women in our Armed Forces. Since America’s founding, our service members have made countless sacrifices to keep our families safe. In return, our nation owes veterans an invaluable debt, and our government has a unique responsibility to care for them when they come home. But despite their incredible bravery and selflessness, too many of our country’s veterans are routinely underserved by the federal government. Whether it’s chronic understaffing at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center, glaring inconsistencies in military health records system, or deficiencies in the way we enroll and provide services for female veterans, there are issues we must address to make sure our vets are receiving the services they deserve. One of my biggest concerns involves the conditions that have recently been reported in private military housing, where maintenance is managed by for-profit companies. Through neglect and negligence, these companies have exposed our military families to health hazards, including lead-based paint, mold, asbestos, and gas leaks. Some families have even encountered faulty electrical wiring, rodent and insect infestations, and sewage leaks in their homes and communities. For example, in 2012, an Army colonel’s toddler son was diagnosed with brain damage from eating lead-based paint chips in on-base housing. This is not acceptable. No family should live under these conditions. And it’s even more shameful that this burden is being placed on American military families, all of whom have already made great sacrifices in the service of our country. We must do something. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I jumped at the chance this year to join the Subcommittee on Military Construction & Veterans Affairs. I saw this as a unique opportunity to stand up for the veterans in our state of Pennsylvania, which is proudly home to more than 800,000 men and women who have served our country. Having heard first-hand about the issues in private military housing, one of my main goals is to make sure the service branches start holding private contractors to a higher level of accountability. The federal government has transferred maintenance responsibilities in these facilities to outside property management companies, all of which enjoy long-term contracts with the Department of Defense. But a lack of oversight has led to the unacceptable conditions that have plagued our militaries for far too long. How do we do it? We can start by requiring the service branches to monitor military housing complaints more closely, and to keep an eye on the maintenance requests made by tenant military families. We can ensure fair service for these families by requiring contractors to answer for deficiencies in their facilities, like mold or leaks. We must also require that the outside contractors keep reviewable records of those complaints and requests, and that the armed branches provide thorough oversight to make sure these reported health and safety risks are being addressed. Additionally, we must work to fix the problems plaguing the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center. We can do that by raising the pay for nursing and administrative staff; making the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center patients’ computer records more compatible with those at the Pentagon; and getting the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center up to speed on its ability to diagnose and treat the unique health issues faced by women. Finally, it’s time we address the soaring rate of opioid addictions in veterans, and the devastating rate of veteran suicides in our country. We can do that by changing drug management practices to curb opioid reliance, increasing the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s outreach to veterans at risk of suicide, and providing more support services and transitional housing to homeless veterans. Only with these types of improvements can we honor our pledge to military families and veterans. They’ve done their part; they have served our country and made unimaginable sacrifices to make America safe and strong. Now it’s up to us to secure the necessary funding to keep our promise to care and trust for our nation’s veterans. I look forward to continuing to work on these issues as Congress moves forward with year’s budget. U.S. REP. MATT CARTWRIGHT represents Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District, which includes Lackawanna, Wayne, and Pike Counties, and portions of Luzerne and Monroe Counties.