NORFOLK, Va. — After four Navy sailors assigned to a Norfolk-based shore command apparently died by suicide in less than a month's time, two members of the Virginia Congressional delegation are demanding answers and seeking accountability.
The Navy is investigating the four apparent sailor suicides last fall at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center at Naval Station Norfolk. The deaths took place between October 30 and November 26.
Unanswered questions include: were the deaths related in any way and did those sailors and others have adequate mental health and medical support?
Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, Sen. Tim Kaine (D, Virginia), and Rep. Bobby Scott (D, VA-03) toured the facility on Tuesday. Afterward, Kaine told the media he is convinced that Secretary Del Toro is committed to solving this problem.
"That was his closing argument: 'Look, folks, you know at the end of the day, it's all about how we care for each other,'" he said. "And he was very sincere and very emotional as he delivered that message."
Kaine said Del Toro made a promise to maintenance center sailors.
"He said, 'We owe you better and more than we're providing right now, but we'll figure this out.'"
Kaine also said a top priority this Congressional session will be to see to that the Department of Defense and the military branches fully implement the Brandon Act, to help service members with mental health crises without fear of reprisals.
"My staff and I, we're going to be really focused a lot on Brandon Act implementation so that we implement it in a good faith way, so people know that there's service out there," Kaine said. "We've got to de-stigmatize asking for help."
Last April, three sailors assigned to the USS George Washington are believed to have taken their own lives within six days of each other, while their aircraft carrier was undergoing a long-term overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding.
A Navy review determined the deaths "were not related or connected." But the report noted that the sailors faced "common stressors."