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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Navy charting new course after string of suicides

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The overhaul last year of the USS George Washington forged a critical overhaul of quality of life issues. Last spring, three GW sailors died by suicide.

Then, in December, four sailors from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center took their lives. Members of Congress remain concerned.

“There has got to be amenities, things that seem kind of simple but really mean a lot to you if you’re going to be in a place for a long period of time,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee and was in Hampton Roads this week for a community roundtable event. “But I think particularly in in the military, but just more generally in society, we’ve got a lot more to do to make mental health services available to reduce any stigma, to seeking mental health services and I do think the Navy, through implementing things like the Brandon Act, is pushing ahead on this. … It’s not just going to magically improve if we don’t really, really stay on it.”

In a telephone media briefing Monday, Navy brass charted a course of correction.

“Both in the yards [shipyards] and at sea, we must ensure we provide what sailors need to be successful warfighters who are always ready to fight,” said Admiral Scotty Gray, who is the quality of service team lead.

With the USS John C. Stennis at Newport News Shipbuilding for refueling and overhaul, Gray told reporters extra steps have been taken to improve quality of life.

Wi-Fi, cell phone service, access to quality food, the gym and transportation have been improved. The Navy is also promising more timely medical and mental health services.

Capt. Patrick Thompson, the commanding officer of USS John C. Stennis, was asked how he can win back the confidence of the sailors.

Regina Mobley: Parts, protocols, and now people are broken, broken-hearted. How do you win back the confidence of your troops [sailors], given so many areas of dysfunction have been revealed?

Captain Patrick Thompson: I would say that this is number one; it’s a daily thing and you have to show that you care. I’m always looking to break down whether it’s a barrier and fix an issue for them as fast as possible.

Safety is also a concern. Navy officials say they are working with the Newport News Police Department and shipyard officials to help sailors avoid scams and situations that would be dangerous.

Huntington Ingalls spokesperson Todd Corrillo issued a statement that underscores the shipyard’s commitment to improving the quality of life for sailors.

“HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding division is actively engaged with the Navy and the city of Newport News to enhance Quality of Service for Navy sailors and shipbuilders at the shipyard. As communicated by Navy leadership today, significant progress has been made and we remain committed to the open dialogue and partnership that has advanced these initiatives and those that are still to come.”

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