Several U.S. lawmakers are demanding that Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro explain the horrendous living conditions aboard a Maryland Navy base that houses Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, conditions exposed for the first time earlier this month in a Navy Times investigation.

Thursday’s letter from Maryland Democratic Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, as well as U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., expresses their “deep concern at recent press reports describing the unacceptable living conditions” in the Sanctuary and Comfort halls barracks aboard Naval Support Activity Bethesda.

Earlier this month, Navy Times reported that junior enlisted sailors and soldiers had lived without adequate hot water in the buildings for years, and had also dealt with broken air conditioning and faulty door locks, issues the Navy knew about.

Navy officials finally began helping these troops the day after Navy Times’s Feb. 4 investigation was published and moved hundreds of sailors and soldiers into hotels while the repairs were finally fast tracked.

“We are alarmed by the revelation that these conditions have persisted for years despite reportedly being known to installation leadership,” the lawmakers’ letter states.

The letter also cites Navy Times reporting on how so-called “trouble tickets” were not acted upon by maintenance staff at the base.

Base officials have refused to say whether anyone has been disciplined for the botched handling of these resident complaints but say they are working to ensure such tickets no longer disappear into the ether.

Many of the affected troops are medical personnel who work in the sprawling Walter Reed medical complex, and some have described working in COVID wards and then being unable to take a hot shower to properly clean themselves after long shifts.

“Basic hygiene is soap and warm water,” one medical sailor — a corpsman — said. “We were missing the warm part of that.”

“We appreciate fully that military installations must often operate under budgetary constraints and with competing priorities, but these conditions are critical for the wellbeing of service members and pose an immediate threat to military readiness,” the lawmakers wrote, adding that “these conditions have serious impacts on health, morale, personal safety, and military readiness.”

Comfort and Sanctuary halls are not the only facilities at NSA Bethesda that have “been allowed to deteriorate to an unacceptable state,” the letter notes.

“The living and working condition at the installation’s fire house were utterly unacceptable — plagued by mold, asbestos, roof leaks, electrical issues and structural instability — even before a 2019 fire rendered approximately half of the facility uninhabitable,” the lawmakers wrote.

“To date, despite Congressional staff visits, Congressional requests that this facility be prioritized for replacement, and report language accompanying the FY 2020 Military Construction-VA appropriations bill directing the Navy to prioritize fire and emergency services facilities, a permanent solution has still not been identified and the Navy has not prioritized the construction of a new fire station in its budget submissions to Congress.”

Van Hollen, Cardin and Raskin asked Del Toro to update them in writing by Feb. 24 regarding what is being done to ensure the afflicted barracks have hot water and air conditioning at all times, what the command is doing to “ensure that improperly handled trouble tickets are addressed” and how the command plans to ensure that trouble tickets are properly handled in the future.

They also asked if Maryland’s congressional delegation can help remove any regulatory or legislative barriers to resolving the issues, as well as what Naval District Washington and NSA Bethesda are doing to end “the troubling pattern of on-base facilities being neglected until they reach a state of crisis, including progress on the planned construction of a new fire house.

“We owe it to the men and women entrusted to the care of this installation that NSA-Bethesda and Walter Reed are home to world-class facilities and management,” the lawmakers wrote.

Capt. Jereal Dorsey, a spokesman for the Navy secretary, said Del Toro has not yet received the letter “but is tracking the situation regarding NSA Bethesda Barracks very closely.”

“As he has stated previously, the safety and well-being of our Sailors, Marines, civilians, and their families is one of Secretary Del Toro’s top priorities,” Dorsey said.

Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at geoffz@militarytimes.com.

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