NAVAL STATION NORFOLK – The head of personnel for the entire Navy acknowledges major issues with mental health treatment, but said measures are being taken.
Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman said if sailors are going to stand tall, the Navy needs to un-burden them. But a sometimes unbearable burden in the past 12 months has been despair, with clusters of suicides connected to USS George Washington and the regional maintenance center MARMC.
Cheeseman said the Navy shares some of the same challenges as civilian life when it comes to mental health resources.
“We have put a lot of resources into the budget for 2024,” he said. “But much like the country is seeing, there’s a dearth of mental health providers, so we understand that.”
Cheeseman said finding more providers is a “focus of effort for (the Secretary of the Navy) and the (Chief of Naval Operations).” He led an all-hands call Thursday morning at the Vista Point Conference Center with about 350 sailors. He feels a special kinship with them because he did all of his sea duty while based at Norfolk.
Cheeseman said part of the effort to address mental health treatment will involve a reset on how the Navy handles sailors who go on limited duty.
“In certain locations we sort of overmanned the limited duty population at any given place,” Cheeseman said. “You mentioned MARMC, that’s one of them. We’ve overwhelmed the system in some locations. So we’re re-balancing the limited duty population.”
Another step the Navy said it will take to remove the stigma of seeking help is changing the culture within the chain of command.
“(We’ll be) creating frameworks and policies in place that enable leaders at all levels not to inadvertently say no to any of their given shipmates for any potential problems,” Cheeseman said, “so leaders know where to turn for resources.”