WASHINGTON -- While funding for quality of life initiatives, among other efforts, led to a historic retention rate last year, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey told lawmakers Thursday that more can still be done.

Sufficient, predictable funding from Congress, he said, is required to improve upon those initiatives and, in effect, further build readiness -- the Army's top priority.

"America's Army remains in high demand across the world because of our leadership, professionalism and ability to constantly evolve to meet the security needs of our defense partners as well as our own," Dailey said.

Testifying before the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies on Capitol Hill, Dailey told lawmakers that every dollar spent on quality of life programs is essential.

During his travels to Army installations last year, Dailey said he saw progress in those programs that helped the service see over 90 percent of eligible Soldiers re-enlist.

"We've seen more improvements based upon our investment and due to the help of this committee," he testified. "We continue to make great strides across the board to meet the needs of our ever-growing formations."

Ongoing issues, however, still present challenges to ensure Soldiers and families are safe and happy.

CHILDCARE

Dailey reiterated the importance of adequate childcare, which was discussed by him and other senior leaders during an Army family readiness forum Tuesday in Arlington, Virginia.

As the Army's largest single investment in family programs, childcare services accounted for about $485 million in last year's budget, he said.

"It's a force multiplier and we do very well at it, but we could use more," he testified.

Policy changes are being developed so childcare providers can be hired quicker to reduce backlogs, particularly at overseas installations. There are also efforts to see if it is possible to build more child development centers.

At Tuesday's forum, Army Secretary Mark T. Esper supported the idea of having more spouses run childcare businesses at home as another option.

MILITARY HOUSING

With about 40,000 pre-1978 homes on Army installations, about $4 million was spent last year to inspect older homes for lead paint and other toxic hazards, Dailey said.

Several town halls have also been carried out to inform families of the possible dangers.

"Bottom line is, we are concerned," Dailey told lawmakers. "I think we can do a better job."

Army leadership recently ordered the Army inspector general, he said, to investigate the service's privatized housing in order to find the best way forward.

The problem with toxic hazards in older homes is not just an Army issue, he added, but a nationwide problem.

By 2021, plans call for the Army to eliminate its lowest level of military housing, known as Q4. Only 190 families are currently living in Q4 housing, Dailey said.

"We have issues and we've attacked them ruthlessly as leadership when they occur," he said, "and we will continue to do that."

CREDENTIALING

Last fall, the Army launched a limited user test for a credentialing assistance program.

The program, which has similar rates and eligibility as tuition assistance, will provide Soldiers up to $4,000 each year to pay for credentials that will prepare them for life after the military.

The program's pilot has already seen success at Fort Hood, Texas, and there are now plans to begin expanding it to the entire service by the end of fiscal year 2019, Dailey said.

"The Soldiers are excited about this," he said, adding officials still need to hash out the details and ensure education partners are properly vetted.

Many of the credentials offer promotion points and are recognized by civilian industry, including jobs in healthcare, plumbing, information technology and aviation repair.

Despite having over 150 military occupational specialties that directly translate to highly-skilled jobs in the civilian sector, many Soldiers still must pay for credentials when they get out.

"What they lack is the civilian credentials in order to obtain those jobs," Dailey said.

Credentials are also important for Soldiers in positions not linked to civilian jobs, such as combat arms, so they can gain the skills to be productive in their communities, he said.

"These are valuable young men and women who can fill the voids in some of those jobs," he said. "All we [have] to do is give them the tools necessary to do it."