Top Navy leaders visited the USS George Washington following a number of recent suicides among crew members as the Navy continues to investigate the deaths.
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro held group discussions with sailors of varying ranks, while Admiral Michael Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, toured the ship to meet the crew and observe conditions of life. In the past 12 months, seven crew members have died, four of them by suicide, prompting the Navy to launch an investigation into the climate and command culture aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.
Former and current crew members who spoke to CNN earlier this month described “horrendous” conditions, including frequent power outages and unbearable temperatures. “It’s all the way down,” a sailor currently assigned to the carrier told CNN.
In early May, the Navy announced that sailors who did not wish to live on the ship could move to other accommodations. Of the approximately 420 sailors who lived on board, nearly 300 have so far chosen to leave, the Navy said Tuesday.
Del Toro vowed the Navy needed to do more to support the crew of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The George Washington has been at the Newport News shipyard for years for its mid-life refueling, but the process has been repeatedly delayed.
Suicide among the military has been a priority for Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who has said in the past, “One death by suicide is one too many.”
On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced the leadership of the Independent Review Panel on Suicide Prevention and Response, which Austin created in March to better understand and prevent suicides among service members. The committee, led by clinical psychologist Gayle Iwamasa of the Department of Veterans Affairs, will review past suicide prevention efforts and make recommendations to improve the military’s approach.
The committee will begin visiting a series of high-risk facilities this summer, and a final report is due to Congress next February.
Editor’s Note: If you or someone close to you has considered suicide, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK at 741741.