WASHINGTON (WAVY) – The Navy released a pair of extensive reports Thursday outlining findings and recommendations following clusters of suicides in the past 18 months connected to USS George Washington and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center.
In a separate joint memo, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro and Chief of Naval Operations ADM Michael M. Gilday outlined an action plan geared to the two reports.
Commander of US Fleet Forces Admiral Daryl Caudle and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Honea discussed the George Washington report Thursday morning in a conference call with reporters.
“The mental health capacity for George Washington was insufficient,” Caudle said. In response, Caudle said the Navy has assigned more providers, including behavioral health technicians, a deployment resiliency coordinator and more doctors.
Caudle said salary costs for mental health providers are a major challenge, and the Navy will work to be more salary competitive. The Navy is also leasing more medical facilities near the Newport News shipyard to expand access.
Caudle said the probe into suicides on board George Washington found no common threads.
“They were in different divisions, different times on board, different departments, different living conditions.”
But one thing George Washington has in common with the Mid Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center is that its crew has been shore-bound for overhaul and refueling for more than six years.
“It was pointedly obvious that the Navy had failed the George Washington through a host of things that we put that ship into,” Caudle said.
MARMC had its own cluster of four suicides last fall.
In their joint memo following the reports, Gilday and Del Toro said “a policy will be established that ensures that every sailor deserves to go to sea” in their initial enlistment.
The top representative of enlisted personnel said the conclusions will have impact.
“Every sailor deserves leadership they can trust and a leader who’s invested in their health, well-being and overall success,” Honea said.
Caudle talked about the role of sailors using their own Navy weapons to take their lives.
“Far too many on a percentage basis of the tragic deaths due to suicide are due to a firearm, and far too many of that population is with a service-provided weapon,” he said. “Make no mistake about it, we are looking hard at this.”
The reports come two weeks after the Pentagon ordered implementation of the Brandon Act, named for a Norfolk sailor who died by suicide five years ago. It calls for a simpler path to mental health treatment for sailors in crisis, preserves confidentiality and bars repercussions and harassment against service members who seek help.
Caudle pointed to steps already taken, including the refurbishing of living barges and commissioning two new ones, installing high speed internet in some areas, and giving George Washington’s crew the option to move off the ship during overhaul and refueling at Newport News.
Caudle said the accountability is now on him and other fleet commanders to keep any other ship from having a protracted refueling like George Washington ever again.
“This is a fundamental shift in how the Navy does business,” Caudle said.
When reporters asked Navy officials about a schedule for implementation of the new measures, they said they could not give a specific timeline.