Troops facing health care, pay, housing and other issues 

Troops facing health care, pay, housing and other issues 

One in four servicemembers grapples with food insecurity.

More than one in five (22%) military spouses faces unemployment, one of the highest such rates of any demographic in the United States.

Those were among the key findings in a report issued by the House Armed Services Committee’s Quality of Life Panel on April 11.

“These numbers are real, heartbreaking and must be addressed immediately,” American Legion National Security Commission Chairman Matthew Shuman said. “We applaud the committee for its due diligence on quantifying the problem areas. The American Legion will continue to advocate for our military members and their families, and push for immediate solutions to improve their quality of life — as they stand on the front lines protecting our nation.”

The American Legion has long supported improving the quality of life for servicemembers and their families. Among the resolutions approved by the National Executive Committee is Resolution No. 85, Support for Military Quality of Life Standards from 2016. The resolution called on Congress and the Department of Defense (DOD) to, among other things, support and fund regular increases in the Basic Allowances for Housing (BAH); renovation and construction of military quarters; and increased funding for child day care centers.

The American Legion is the only veterans service organization that has created a program and engaged with base leadership to work together to solve Quality of Life issues. The first such visit was conducted last October at Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz., and more are planned for 2024.

“We are grateful for the support by the Yuma base leadership,” said Shuman, a member of the Department of Arizona. “We continue to work hand-in-hand with them on improvements in Yuma as we prepare more fact-finding missions. This is a work in progress, of course. The goal here is to improve the quality of life of our nation’s servicemembers. In order to be most effective, we’ll need to continue to compile information, understand the issues and leverage best practices at bases throughout the U.S.”

The panel’s report focused on five key areas: access to health care; compensation; housing; support for spouses; and access to child care. The recommendations were bipartisan in nature and did not take into consideration the cost to the federal government.

Among the key findings:

Access to health care

The panel found that delays in accessing medical care for servicemembers and their dependents is one of the top reasons for job dissatisfaction among the military.

Recommendations: They recommended that the Defense Health Agency (DHA) evaluate the effectiveness of current access standards. It should include the use of telemedicine and other technologies to deliver care. New access to care standards are needed for urgent behavioral health appointments, and servicemembers need increased access to a number of specialty care areas, including women’s health.  The panel also said DHA should submit a report with access data for all health-care services broken down to the military treatment facility level. Current access to care assessments are based on the aggregate of all such facilities. Also, DHA should survey medical providers to determine why they choose to stay or leave the military. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) should evaluate the use and effectiveness of hiring and retention authorities for civilian medical providers.

Pay and compensation

The panel found that pay for junior enlisted servicemembers is not competitive with the civilian labor market. The report notes that over 60,000 servicemembers make less than $15 per hour in basic pay.

Recommendation: Increase basic pay for the most junior enlisted servicemembers (E-1 to E-4) by 15%, which they say will bring equivalency to the civilian labor market for new high school graduates.

The panel also said BAH rates are supposedly calculated to meet 95% of the local rental market. However, the panel found that rental costs have increased by 20% in recent years and BAH rates have not kept pace.

Recommendation: DoD should increase BAH to cover 100% of local rental costs and to fix erroneous calculations. They cited a GAO report that found DoD miscalculated housing allowances in 40% of housing markets. BAH should also be paid to servicemembers at E-4 and below who are assigned to sea duty. DoD should change the calculation for the base allowance for subsistence (BAS) to consider location and the number of a servicemember’s dependents.

Military spouse support

Challenges spouses face in finding and maintaining employment are cited as a reason for leaving the military by almost 20% of active duty servicemembers who are considering separating. The panel found it can take seven months or longer for a spouse to find a new job after a permanent change of station move.

Recommendations: Make the Military Spouse Career Accelerator Pilot permanent. This project supports spouses with paid fellowships in civilian employers and has seen a high rate of employment following the fellowship. Many of those spouses have been able to move their job or go remote with the next move. Also, the panel calls on DoD to have permanent authority to enter into a cooperative agreement with the Council of State Governments to develop interstate licensure compacts. This would make it easier for spouses to transfer their licenses when moving. Additionally, spouses who are actively seeking employment should have access to DoD-sponsored childcare, both on and off base, for 180 days. They currently have access to this for half that time.

Access to child care

Excessive wait times for DoD-sponsored child care, on and off base, have been a problem for many years. The post-pandemic shortage of child care workers has worsened the problem.

Recommendations: The panel calls for full funding of the child care fee assistance programs, which would eliminate waiting lists for parents. The panel also sought solutions to attracting more child care workers, recommending the services fully cover the fees of each staff member’s first child enrolled in a DoD child development program. And, pay rates for DoD child care staff should be made competitive with local market rates.


The poor state of many barracks and dorms for unaccompanied housing has been well documented. Panel members were appalled to learn about frequent sewage leaks, mold, and rodent infestations, among other horrors, through a congressionally requested GAO report.

Recommendations: Recognizing the last few administrations have underfunded facilities sustainment, restoration and modernization accounts for years, the panel calls for the services to document what is needed and report that each year to Congress. The panel also calls for a new, more transparent system for tracking how funds are allocated at the installation level. Additionally, DoD should conduct a study examining life cycle costs for housing, considering the barracks policies for each branch of service. That cost should be compared to the cost of providing BAH for servicemembers who are currently required to live in barracks. That leads to the panel’s next recommendation: use expanded BAH authorities or other mechanisms to consider privatizing unaccompanied housing. Some privatization has already occurred or is in the works. The panel wants a report on these efforts.