NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — New details are emerging on the deaths of several USS George Washington sailors.
At the start of the week, The Navy confirmed three recent deaths of sailors assigned to the carrier, which is undergoing an overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding.
As more questions were asked, the numbers grew.
We have learned that seven sailors assigned to the carrier have died in the past year. The Navy reports four of them were either suicide or apparent suicide.
The reaction is starting to build to do something to turn around the deadly trend.
Congresswoman Elaine Luria (D-2nd District) was in Hampton Roads visiting with small business owners, but she took time to speak with WAVY, saying on-the-job climate surveys on USS George Washington are needed now. Luria previously served in the U.S. Navy.
“To understand whether there are endemic problems within the command, poor morale, safety issues people being treated with respect that their working conditions are satisfactory,” Luria said.
On April 26, Luria sent a letter to Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday demanding answers.
The ultimate question will be, did a toxic climate on board lead to suicides?
“I suspect that in addition to a normal routine survey something needs to be done aboard the George Washington to understand within that command whether the climate is contributing factors to these tragedies,” Luria said.
At the Pentagon, there’s an indication they see something may not be right.
“Obviously we wouldn’t have stood up this Commission on Independent Review Commission for Suicide Prevention if we didn’t really believe we have more work to do, and clearly we have more work to do, and we know it.”
We asked Luria, who was a commander, on a scale of 1-10, how concerned she is.
“Oh, it’s a 10. I never heard of circumstances like this: What appears to be a tragic trend that involves suicide in a single command,” she said.
Luria was unaware of an open letter addressed to her that was put on social media. We showed her the letter written by Will Staub, who said he served on the GW and is writing to ask questions about why nothing has been done. He refers to a toxic atmosphere and poor quality of life on the carrier,
“As you have highlighted to me, there have been some concerns mentioned to me now about the living conditions aboard the ship as well as the command climate and morale, and I plan to reach out and talk to leadership.” Luria said.
Here’s what we know: there are tough questions ahead about work culture, mental health treatment, morale, and leadership.
The Navy released a statement Friday about the recent deaths.
“We can confirm seven total deaths of service members assigned to USS George Washington over the past 12 months (4 in 2021, and 3 in 2022). The circumstances surrounding these incidents vary and it is premature to make assumptions, as some incidents remain under investigation. The death of any Sailor is one too many and we will thoroughly investigate these incidents to ensure we are providing the appropriate support and resources to Sailors at sea and in the shipyards. Our leadership remains fully engaged with the crew to ensure their health and well-being, and to ensure a climate of trust that encourages Sailors to ask for help. Chaplains, psychologists, counselors and leaders are with the crew and are available to provide appropriate support and counseling to those grieving the unexpected loss of our shipmates.”
Military members can call the Military Crisis Line, which connects active-duty service members and veterans in crisis with Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential, toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Visit http://www.militarycrisisline.net/, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255, Option 1), or text 838255
For information on programs, events, presentations and support groups the National Alliance on Mental Illness offers, click here.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK.