More private barracks and a 15% jump in enlisted pay are among the key steps the military should take if it wants to improve quality of life for service retention, a bipartisan report by a House Armed Services panel released Thursday found. Childcare and job opportunities for spouses were also high on the panel’s priority list.

“It is clear that we must address these issues if we are to sustain the All-Volunteer Force,” according to the report by the Quality of Life panel. The report was put together after months of hearings, briefings, roundtables, oversight visits, and interviews. The panel’s recommendations are aimed at inclusion in the 2025 National Defense Authorization Act. 

“You think about these global challenges that we are facing. We think about our military branches, we think about conflict but really it comes down to people,” Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) said at a press conference for the report’s unveiling. “It’s not just the women and men who make the incredible sacrifice and commitment, it’s their entire family.” 

The report follows a series of bombshells on quality of life issues that military members face. In 2023, a Government Accountability Office report found junior enlisted service members were forced to live in barracks with unsafe and unsanitary living conditions such as broken locks, mold problems and rat infestations. And Wednesday, released an investigative report on abuse, denial and a lack of accountability in military childcare facilities


The panel found that servicemember salaries overall did not keep up with the rate of inflation. Since 2020 and through 2024 (with the 5.2% pay raise in 2024), basic pay is projected to increase by 16.4% while inflation is projected for a 19.% increase, according to the report.

The panel recommended a 15% increase to basic pay for junior enlisted troops (E-1s to E-4s) and an increase in military compensation benchmarks for enlisted and officers from the current 70th percentile to the 80th and 75th percentiles “comparable” to civilian compensations.

Air Force photo

With more pay, the panel hopes it can address another issue plaguing troops, especially E-4 to E-6s in the Army and Navy: food insecurity. A 2023 RAND report found that 25% of U.S. troops are food insecure, according to the panel. The rates were also higher among troops who lived on post which they linked it to inability to access DFACs around atypical work schedules and not having a car to travel off base.

To combat these issues, installations and military services are expanding outposts like food trucks, 24-hour self-service kiosks, mass transit options to DFACs for troops in barracks. A pilot at Fort Liberty in fiscal 2026 will allow troops to use meal cards across the installation, including at the commissary, restaurants, and dining facilities. However, troop reports from the veteran-created Hots&Cots app have noted completely barren kiosks at dining facilities at Hunter Army AirField in Savannah, Georgia and Fort Carson, Colorado. 

The report also included troops’ frustration with the calculation and frequency of adjustments for Cost of Living Allowances for those stationed abroad. For example, military families in Germany “struggled to make ends meet” due to “massive hikes in their utility bills caused by the conflict in Ukraine as their Pentagon-provided [COLA] continued to decrease,” the report said. Similar issues were reported in Hawaii with high costs for gas and groceries.

BAH and Private Barracks

The Panel recommended a reversal to the 5% reduction in BAH and ensure it covers 100% of the calculated rate for the military housing area. The skyrocketing costs of living have left troops living in some of the most expensive parts of the country like troops assigned to Edwards Air Base who are moving into RVs on base because they can’t afford options in California.

To counter these problems, Congress is pushing ahead with private options for barracks because the service’s can’t handle the oversite, despite long-standing criticisms over private contractors running on base family housing, Rep. Don Bacon (R-Nebraska), head of the congressional panel told Task & Purpose after the press conference.

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“They can’t do a good job on their own, that’s what I’m hearing just to be brutally honest,” Bacon said. “We’re probably going to go see more of a trend to privatized barracks like we did the housing.”

The Army and Navy are considering additional privatized barracks projects. Air Force officials said they have requested a consultation with officials over a privatized barracks proposal. The Marine Corps is conducting a feasibility study for privatized unaccompanied housing at two locations, the report said.

After the scathing report, Elizabeth Field, director of the GAO’s Defense Capabilities and Management office told Congress in September that privatization is “not a silver bullet“ and said it won’t matter where funds go, “ if you don’t pay attention.”

Bacon said there will be a boatload of money put into barracks sustainment this fiscal year and the following one. Housing representatives for the services told Congress in September that they were currently funding sustainment at around 80% but with the latest budget requests, that is changing.

The Army, for example, specifically requested $680 million for barracks sustainment in its fiscal year 2025 budget request with officials noting it was the first year they planned to fund sustainment at 100%. 

“I was trying to be nice up there but this really pissed us off. We were being told this is what we need for barracks, we were paying it,” Bacon said. “Then you find out after 10 years they’re asking for 80% of what they needed. I get it, they were trying to put money into weapons but we should have known that we were not putting up what was actually required.”

Access to care

The panel also found issues with troops’ access to care, especially behavioral health resources. The panel directed the Defense Health Agency to evaluate current access standards, services offered at military treatment facilities and the role of telemedicine and technology in delivering health care. Along with reviewing the role of remote care, the panel recommended direct access to telemedicine appointments without a referral.

The Panel also recommended the military services survey medical providers in critical wartime specialties and specialties with shortages like mental health to determine “why military providers choose to remain in service or separate.”

Spouses and childcare

For military spouses, the panel recommended the authorization of two programs which give spouses paid fellowships and employment opportunities. They also recommended a cooperative agreement with state governments on interstate licensure compacts to transfer occupation credentials.

Currently the DOD-sponsored child care program serves approximately 200,000 children, and employs over 23,000 workers, costing an average of $1 billion annually. Despite this, wait times for Child Development Centers can reach up to six or seven months but some service members “may never gain access to fee assistance.”

Over the last few years, 17 new CDC’s have been authorized and given funding for construction but many projects are not yet complete. The panel also found vacancies for more than 4,300 CDC worker positions.

Due to the aforementioned challenges, the report focused on access and availability of options. The panel recommends implementing competitive pay rates for CDC workers at military installations, reports on potential partnerships and programs with the base’s surrounding communities and an assessment of an initiative to recruit students and recent graduates at local colleges and universities.

The report also noted that satisfaction rates overall for military child care is “high and it is generally considered high quality” despite the investigation from this week which found service branch rules generally prioritize protecting the institution and have limited accountability safeguards when it comes to cases of abuse involving children at the centers.

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