WASHINGTON (WAVY) – Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and the rest of the Armed Services Committee are looking for answers when it comes to Navy suicides.

Two recent clusters of suicides have plagued the service – one on the crew of a carrier in extensive overhaul, the other among sailors assigned to the regional maintenance center.

“We take this responsibility very seriously,” Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro told the committee Tuesday, saying his greatest responsibility is the “safety of sailors, marines and civilian personnel.”

He faced questions about suicides in the past two years, including four among the crew of USS George Washington, in overhaul so long at six years and counting, that some sailors have never been underway.

“Particularly for first tour, sailors, are there other assignments that they could take on that would more closely match the MOS as they’ve trained for?” Kaine asked.

“I don’t think the entire crew is needed throughout the entire period (of refueling and complex overhaul),” Del Toro responded. “But there are stages where we actually need that mid-level management overseeing our most junior sailors. One of the things that we discovered on the George Washington, for example, is that there was a lack of mid-level leadership in the Chief Petty Officer Corps.”

President Joe Biden signed into law the Brandon Act 17 months ago, but it’s still not in effect.
Named for a sailor who died by suicide at Naval Station Norfolk, it would make the process of getting mental health resources easier and more confidential.

“The fine details of how best to implement the Brandon Act are being reviewed by the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel Readiness,” Del Toro said. “I hope that over the course of the next several months, we’ll actually have a path forward on how best to execute it.”

Kaine said he wants the committee to know the plan for implementing the Brandon Act ahead of time so the upcoming defense budget will accommodate it.

“If we feel like we want to offer some additional muscle to implementation,” Kaine said, “we have a chance to do that before the committee finishes its work on this.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday answered Kaine’s questions about the Mid Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center. MARMC had four crew members die by suicide in a month’s time last fall.

Gilday said he’d like to see a smaller percentage of sailors on limited duty, a key component of MARMC’s crew.

“For those in limited duty, (we need) to get them medical evaluations at a much faster pace,” Gilday said. “We’re also reducing the ratio of those in limited duty at command, so that we don’t have another MARMC, so that people are properly supervised.”