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Navy investigating conditions after USS George Washington deaths; Luria presses for answers

Newport News Shipbuilding hits two major milestones on refueling and overhaul of USS George Washington (Photo by Matt Hildreth/TNS)
April 30, 2022

The Navy is launching an assessment of conditions on carriers when they are in shipyards in the wake of the apparent suicide deaths of three sailors on USS George Washington, and is sending a team from Naval Health Research Center to conduct an assessment of the ship.

The carrier is nearing the end of a multi-year overhaul and refueling at Newport News Shipbuilding, which was slowed because of the pandemic.

In addition to several pending investigations, the Navy has dispatched an additional clinical psychologist and a mental health clinician to supplement the Washington’s medical team.

The Washington’s sailors have immediate access when calling the Hampton Roads appointment line as well as being provided expedited appointing for mental health referrals.

The Navy also sent a 13-person Special Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Team from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth after the third sailor’s death, which occurred on the carrier.

“As a father of two junior service members, I feel these events deeply,” said Rear Adm. John F. Meier, commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic. “My staff and I are working daily, and aggressively, to ensure support and resources are available to sailors in the ship yards, at sea, and at home.”

Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Virginia Beach, said she is pressing the Navy’s top officer for answers about the climate and living conditions on the Washington.

In a letter to Admiral Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, Luria said her office has received reports of a toxic atmosphere and inadequate attention to sailors’ quality of life.

“This indicates an urgent need to understand if there are endemic problems within the command, safety concerns, or other contributing issues,” she said.

She wants to know how the Navy will assess the climate aboard the USS George Washington and what immediate or interim changes will be made in the command as investigations proceed.

Luria, a Navy veteran, said she wants to visit the carrier so that she and her staff can hear directly from junior sailors.

Navy officers are investigating each of the apparent suicide deaths of three Washington sailors on April 9, 10 and 15, and there is a separate Naval Criminal Investigative Service probe, as well as investigations by local police forces of the two deaths that occurred off the ship.

About 13% of Washington’s 2,700 crew members live onboard the carrier while it is in the yard. While the Navy is sending mental health staff and counselors to the carrier, it also has onboard three chaplains trained in clinical pastoral care, and two licensed clinical social workers and a team of sailors trained to be “first responders” to a person at risk.


© 2022 The Virginian-Pilot
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