Washington, D.C. –U.S. Representative Don Bacon (R-NE), Chairman of the Quality of Life Panel, delivered the following opening remarks at a hearing where Senior Enlisted Leaders shared their perspective on quality of life issues facing servicemembers.
Rep. Bacon's remarks as prepared for delivery:
I want to welcome everyone to this hearing of the Quality of Life Panel. Today’s hearing is a “Quality of Life Review – Perspective from Senior Enlisted Leaders.”
I want to thank our witnesses for being with us today. I hope this hearing provides an opportunity for our Members to have a productive exchange with our witnesses and provide answers to their questions.
Throughout the course of this Panel, we have heard about the challenges that service members face regarding their quality of life. And while some progress has been made, much more is required.
Military service is demanding on members and their families. They make significant sacrifices, dedicating their lives to our nation. Ensuring our nation’s sons and daughters are provided with the resources they need to do their jobs while providing acceptable quality of life is the very least we can do. But the work of this Panel is much more than that. It’s appropriate to restate that the All-Volunteer Force has been the very foundation of America’s national defense for the last five decades. The work of this Panel has revealed an alarming erosion of military quality of life that, if not addressed quickly, will place the very existence of our All-Volunteer Force at risk. I believe that reversing this decline will require a national commitment to change course while there is still time.
This Panel has focused on five primary issues; compensation, child care, housing, spouse support programs, and access to health care. These are essential to the physical and mental well-being of our military service members and their families.
Adequacy of pay and benefits for our most junior service members continues to be in question. It is crucial these men and women are fairly compensated for their dedication, sacrifice, and service they provide to our nation.
Further, child care is an essential service for our military families. Making sure service members have access to child care is not just about supporting military families; it is a key element in ensuring the readiness of our Armed Forces. We can’t afford to overlook this critical service.
Housing has also been a key focus of the Quality of Life Panel. Good, safe housing is a basic right for our military personnel. It is past time that we prioritize investment into safe and comfortable living conditions. Last September this Panel took testimony from the Government Accountability Office that exposed the deplorable and unacceptable state of the Department’s unaccompanied housing which severely undermines military quality of life and readiness. GAO testified that the Department of Defense has chronically failed to fully fund its facility sustainment requirements, resulting in a backlog of at least $137 billion in deferred maintenance costs, including barracks which are generally considered lower priority and have experienced increased deterioration across the force.
Military spouses also make immense sacrifices for our country. They provide support and stability in face of frequent relocations and deployments. We need to step up efforts to tackle the specific challenges they encounter, be it employment opportunities or access to community networks.
Finally, access to quality health care is a fundamental need for our military personnel. We must continue to improve wait times for urgent, routine, and specialty care appointments. It is imperative this need is addressed quickly.
The quality of life for our service members is a reflection of our commitment to the brave men and women who defend our nation. We must do more to ensure fair compensation, accessible child care, quality housing, spouse support, and comprehensive health care.
Our distinguished Senior Enlisted Leaders are the voice of our enlisted force who disproportionately struggle with Quality of Life issues. From them I am looking for the ground truth…And for a candid discussion of all these issues and anything else our service members need.