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Congressional panel makes push for better military pay, healthcare, housing

Originally posted by The Hill.

A congressional panel tasked with reviewing quality of life for United States service members released a report Thursday making an array of recommendations to improve pay, child care, housing, access to medical care and spouse support. 

Among the key recommendations in the Quality of Life Panel Report from the House Armed Services Committee were raising junior enlisted service members’ pay by 15 percent, increasing allowances for housing and changing the cost of living calculation. 

“The all volunteer force is the foundation of America’s military strength. For this reason, military quality of life is a central national security issue,” said panel Chairman Don Bacon (R-Neb.) during a press conference Thursday. 

“And we can no longer ignore the clear warning signs that — more or less — we don’t protect and preserve the all volunteer force.”

The Armed Services Committee announced the creation of the Quality of Life Panel last June with the intention of shining a spotlight on issues affecting U.S. service members. 

The panel heard about a variety of problems, including service members in unaccompanied housing having to regularly deal with issues like gas leaks, bed bugs and brown tap water. It also cited reports that a quarter of military members are food insecure. 

During a February hearing on military housing, lawmakers saw pictures of restrooms covered with brown residue and walls full of mold. The Government Accountability Office said in a September 2023 report that some barracks posed “serious health and safety risks” for service members.

Bacon said during the press conference that he was sad to see such deterioration since he retired from the Air Force in 2014. 

The report also recommends that military services cover all childcare fees for staff members’ first child and that referral requirements for needs like physical therapy, nutrition and women’s health be dropped. It also recommends that childcare access be increased to 180 days while spouses search for a job.

Panel Ranking Member Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) said that these changes would help reduce wait times in childcare centers, remove “unnecessary obstacles” in healthcare and support spouses who often struggle to find work after frequent moves with their family. 

“Our military, all volunteer military, is the strongest military in the world — is deserving of a good wage, safe housing, food options that men and women actually want to eat and so on and so on and so on,” Houlahan said. 

Both Houlahan and Bacon praised the report as a truly bipartisan effort and expressed their confidence in the suggestions. 

Armed Service Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said implementing the report’s recommendations — starting with the 2025 National Defense Authorization Act — will be an essential step in supporting service members and their families. 

“I hope with this taskforce and what we’re going to do with it, we’re showing those families we care, because the way we’ve been treating them so far is not indicative of caring enough,” he said.

Rogers recognized that some of the report’s suggestions might raise costs, but he said the committee plans to find room in what he estimated will be at least a $895 billion military spending bill. 

“One of the things that I take particular pride about being on the Armed Services Committee, as you know, we pass the NDAA every year — no matter who’s in the White House, no matter who controls the Congress,” Rogers said. “For 63 years, we find a way to get across the finish line.”

“We intend to get this across the finish line with the recommendations in it,” Rogers said.