NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – 10 On Your Side’s investigative team has learned that three U.S. Navy sailors stationed at Naval Station Norfolk have died by suicide.
Multiple sources, not authorized to speak publicly, tell our investigative team that the sailors were assigned to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center (MARMC) at Naval Station Norfolk. The suicides happened over the course of 16 days, with the latest death on Monday night.
10 On Your Side reached out to MARMC for comment on these suicides on Thursday. We did not receive comment from the command by the time of publication but will update this story when we do.
The sources tell us that MARMC is not attached to a ship. Some of the sailors in the command are on limited duty.
Kayla Arestivo is a licensed counselor and co-founder of Trails of Purpose. Navy personnel asked Arestivo to speak to a command as an independent resource during its mental health standdown on Monday.
While Arestivo would not name MARMC, she confirmed the command she spoke with, is the command which the three sailors were assigned to.
The Navy requires commands to hold a mental health stand down once a year to tell sailors about resources.
“That’s big Navy’s way of ensuring that everyone’s aware of the mental health resources that are accessible to them,” Arestivo said.
At the time of Monday’s mental health stand down, two sailors had already died by suicide. Another sailor took their own life on Monday.
The sailor who died by suicide on Monday did not attend the mental health stand down that day. They were set to attend another mental health stand down that was scheduled for the command on Wednesday.
Arestivo said that none of the suicides happened on Naval Station Norfolk. Two sailors took their own life at home and another died by suicide in a grocery store parking lot.
Arestivo said she’s concerned that the command held the mental health stand down in reaction to the sailor’s suicides instead of proactively addressing mental health. She also believes the Navy should require these stand downs quarterly and put a focus on mental health every day.
“It should not be one time a year that we focus on mental health,” she said.
Arestivo did not name the sailors who died by suicide but says she has spoken with their friends and family. People close to one of the sailors said that a service member told their command they were struggling with their mental health. Instead of addressing the sailor’s struggles, Arestivo says Navy leadership put them on temporary leave.
“If you are in a place of leadership and you have people under your leadership that die by suicide, that kill themselves in 16 days, you have some ownership,” Arestivo said.
Arestivo also pointed to the Brandon Act, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021. It was named after Brandon Caserta, a Navy sailor who committed suicide on Naval Station Norfolk in 2018.
The Brandon Act ensures that Navy commands will seek proper mental health treatment for sailors who are struggling. It also ensures that sailors will not be retaliated against or punished for disclosing mental health struggles.
“We have three suicides in 16 days, one of which was brought to the command’s attention,” Arestivo said. “If the Brandon Act was in place, where was the confusion? Did that person receive proper mental health care?”
Teri and Patrick Caserta who pushed the Brandon Act legislation through in honor of their son Brandon say the biggest obstacles with the military have been implementation of the Brandon Act and a culture of toxicity.
“It’s got to stop. When is enough, enough? How many more have to die for anybody to do anything about it, to actually do something about it? Holding a stand down, ok that’s fine but does it really serve a purpose? Are they just checking the box,” asked Teri Caserta.
Patrick Caserta says the Brandon Act is just the beginning and was created with the intent to be modified.
The deaths at MARMC come months after another Naval command was in the news for high numbers of suicides. Over the course of a year, seven sailors stationed on USS George Washington died by suicide. Three of those deaths happened this summer.
Arestivo said more than 1,500 people attended the standdown. She asked the sailors to raise their hands if they’ve felt overworked, underappreciated, and unheard in the workplace in the last year. She said 75% of the sailors in the room raised their hands.
“It is systemic issues. It is quality of life, that they are overworked, undervalued. We don’t talk about things. We’ve got stigmas,” Arestivo said.
“We can’t change war. We can’t change combat. We go ‘Oh thank you for serving our country,’ and agreed, but if they’re dying for this reason, we can’t keep overlook it,” she added.
On Tuesday, Senator Tim Kaine expressed his sadness regarding the deaths.
“I’m heartbroken to learn of the deaths of these three sailors, and my prayers are with their loved ones. One of my top priorities as the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness is to ensure that every member of our armed forces has access to the mental health services that can save lives. Last year, I worked with my colleagues to include the bipartisan Brandon Act—which would allow servicemembers to confidentially seek mental health treatment and reduce the stigma around reporting—in the annual armed services funding bill. I’m pushing the Department of Defense to implement the bill as quickly as possible—and working to secure additional mental health resources for our armed forces through this year’s annual defense funding bill—so we can get servicemembers the mental health services they need. I’ll also be raising these tragic deaths with Naval leadership directly as we work to address this immense challenge facing our military community.”U.S. Senator Tim Kaine
Check WAVY.com for the latest updates.