WASHINGTON (WAVY) – A report that found shortcomings and a lack of training in the 2022 death of a seaman during SEAL training comes as no surprise to the parents of an earlier candidate, who eventually died by suicide on Naval Station Norfolk.
The new report examines inadequate medical resources as well as the prevalence of performance enhancing drugs in the SEAL course following the death of Kyle Mullen of New Jersey.
The death by suicide of Brandon Caserta of Phoenix in 2019 compelled his parents to get a law passed to help servicemembers in crisis. They say they’ve known that SEAL training has had not enough medical care and too many performance-enhancing drugs for years.
“If anybody around me ever coughed up blood, they’re going to the emergency room,” Patrick Caserta said in a Tuesday interview with 10 On Your Side.
That’s what happened last year to Mullen, but there was no immediate trip to the emergency room. For several hours, Mullen was monitored only by fellow candidates with no medical training. He would die that day, the result of bacteria pneumonia. Doctors say it can come from strenuous swimming.
The report found that Mullen refused medical care several times, and SEAL candidates are reluctant to seek it because they want to succeed.
“They classically condition these people not to ask for help,” Caserta said.
Brandon Caserta was a SEAL candidate in 2016. An avid runner, he thought the pain in his leg was shin splints. He collapsed on the beach and instructors ended his dream of becoming a SEAL.
It turned out that his leg was broken in three places. Caserta says Navy medics are not enough when you’re pushing human beings to their mental and physical limits.
“In the case of the SEALs, I really believe you got to have a doctor there – an actual doctor, surgeon, whoever who can actually diagnose immediately,” he said.
The Navy report also looked into performance enhancing drugs in SEAL training.
The Casertas say they’ve been around for years – and it’s an internal problem.
“Believe me, if they wanted to detect them, if they wanted to do urinalysis and prevent performance-enhancing drugs, they could do it,” he said
And the Casertas believe this because during training, candidates wouldn’t have access to PEDs like a civilian would.
Brandon Caserta endured harassment and bullying because he didn’t complete a grueling program that rejects the vast majority of candidates. It contributed to his suicide in Norfolk in 2018.
“The brutality is atrocious. They don’t need to be kicking them,” Teri Caserta said. “They don’t need to be punching them. They’re already going through the worst training of their lives. They don’t need to be brutally beaten in the process.”
President Biden signed the Brandon Act in late 2021, but the military didn’t order its implementation until four weeks ago. The Casertas say any changes that result from the death of Kyle Mullen could also take years to happen.