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I-TEAM: Families share stories on Fort Gordon housing problems

Published: Apr. 25, 2022 at 7:34 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 26, 2022 at 12:42 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - An I-TEAM investigation is getting attention at the U.S. Capitol.

For more than a decade now, we’ve been exposing these problems, asking questions, and pushing for answers. Some have been serious enough to land families on a national health registry.

Local families testified Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Finally, it looks like those with the power to do something about it are taking action. It all started in 2011 when 6-month-old Evelyn Shelton stopped breathing. Years later, Tavoris Hall was rushed to the emergency room in the middle of the night when he couldn’t seem to catch his breath. Adults also told the I-TEAM they were sick of being sick.

For a decade, we’ve been talking to families living on Fort Gordon. We’ve been collecting photos and combing medical records. Employees, concealing their identity.

WATCH THE HEARING:

“The maintenance really doesn’t do their part. The contractors definitely do not do their part,” said Dorthy.

We’ve uncovered electrical problems, mold/moisture complaints, and gas issues.

Col. Jim Clifford said: “The problems that affect life, health safety, we want to get after first.”

Meredith: “And there have been life, health safety issues...”

Clifford: “There have.”

Spanning multiple commands, we asked: “How did we get to a point where we reached a housing crisis?”

They’ve faced combat and cyber warfare, but our men and women in uniform have been fighting another battle on the home front.

It’s no secret Fort Gordon, with cyber command, houses some of our nation’s top secrets. Military families will testify before the Senate subcommittee on investigations about secrets housed in eight neighborhoods on post. Well, they aren’t secrets to us, but first, let’s talk about Fort Gordon’s landlord.

It’s not the Army. It’s Balfour Beatty, a private company based in the U.K. that handles housing at more than 50 U.S. military installations. It operates under a powerful shield. A 50-year contract with the federal government. A contract still in place after our I-TEAM reports bubbled up the chain of command and military housing complaints from all over the country boiled over into Congress, and leaders promised change.

Then in 2021, Balfour Beatty pleaded guilty to defrauding the U.S. Military and agreed to pay more than $65 million in fines and restitution for their crimes.

Sarah Kline: said: “That plea agreement was really just how Balfour Beatty maintenance employees, put a coat of paint and make everything look really pretty like the problem solved.

Kline is the co-founder and community outreach director of the Armed Forces Housing Advocates, non-profit helping military families affected by housing issues. She spoke to me from Texas but will be in the hearing on Tuesday.

“One of the families that I have been helping for over the year is actually testifying. I’m really excited that he’ll actually be able to share his story on record,” she said

Sarah will also be there to support the chief officer of AFHA, who will also testify.

Jana Warner’s name is also on the witness list. Her husband is stationed at Fort Gordon, but she and her family live off post – thanks to housing issues. She testified before Congress back in 2019.

Warner: “The area that we can see behind the shower wall is black and actively growing mold because it continues to get wet. We also requested an air quality check due to our daughter’s frequent nosebleeds.”

The I-TEAM has also learned a Fort Gordon captain, who moved his family out of Balfour Beatty housing, is also scheduled to tell his story.

So, even after our I-TEAM exposed these problems years ago, and Congress was already involved, why is this hearing a big deal?

Kline: “I think the difference with this hearing is we actually have an investigation that was done by the subcommittee.”

As chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, or ‘PSI’ as it’s known on Capitol Hill, Georgia Senator John Ossoff took the lead on an eight-month deep dive looking at alleged mistreatment of military families in privatized housing on U.S. bases. This is his first public hearing as chairman.

Aside from families, two of Balfour Beatty’s top execs will be in the hot seat, answering questions under oath. One of those leaders, Rick Taylor. Taylor: “Are we being more transparent than we have in the past? Perhaps, but it’s good that we do.”

For more than 10 years, we asked for an interview with Balfour Beatty. He’s the only person to ever talk to us – once – virtually – last year. We can’t find where he’s ever spoken with another TV station.

Kline: “What’s discouraging is that these same people were there at the beginning of the problems, and when all these problems were reported, are still in their current positions, it seems that the shake-up that occurred, really how big was the shake-up? And if the senior people in the company are still present, still working?”

This brings us back to those still living at Fort Gordon, many scheduling interviews with the I-TEAM, only to cancel out of fear. Families tell me this hearing and this report give them new hope. There’s a new fight for their homeland, and they no longer feel alone on the front lines. With Ossoff being from Georgia and his many visits to our area, it is not surprising Fort Gordon is such a big part of this investigation.

We should have the report early Tuesday morning, before the hearing.

Housing on Fort Gordon is also at a premium now. Cyber Command has fully made its move down here from Maryland, and the NSA presence is growing.

There aren’t enough homes, and 75 percent of the ones built are known as legacy homes, which is just a nice way to say old. Some of them aren’t up to current housing codes because they are so old. Garrison commanders have been saying for years we need new construction, maybe this is what it will take to get moving on that.

Read the full investigative report below.

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