Breaking News
More () »

Navy Surgeon General says leadership taking need for improved mental health care 'seriously'

The remarks before the Senate Appropriations Committee followed eight apparent sailor suicides over 10 months.

WASHINGTON — In the wake of eight apparent sailor suicides in 10 months, the Navy's Surgeon General told lawmakers the issue of personnel taking their own lives -- and getting service members the mental health care they need -- has gotten everyone's attention.

"From the Secretary of the Navy on down, we have taken this issue very seriously, as we've taken the general issue of suicide prevention and mental health seriously," said Rear Admiral Bruce Gillingham, testifying on Tuesday before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Gillingham acknowledged USS George Washington sailors faced an especially difficult climate, as the ship was in the midst of a long-term overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding. Four GW sailors are believed to have taken their own lives between April 2022 and January 2023.

"GW is an outstanding example of being in a shipyard like that," said Gillingham. "But our sailors and Marines face challenging situations worldwide. So, developing force resilience is key."

Some committee members focused on the recent Defense Department Independent Commission's recommendations. One of them was to repeal a 2011 law that prevents military doctors from asking patients if they have firearms.

"As a rule, is it good medical practice for there to be gag orders on physicians as to what questions they can ask their patients, what information they can elicit from their patients?" asked Sen Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut).

Dr. Lester Martinez-Lopez, Assistant Secretary of Defense Health replied: "Anything that interferes with a good, open discussion between the patient and the physician provider, not necessarily a physician, is not good for either of the two parties. If I don't know, I cannot help you. And if he cannot tell me, even worse."

In late February, the Navy released a 26-page "playbook" for mental health that officials said will not only provide commanders with an idea of what resources are available but also help dispel any stigma around seeking help.

Before You Leave, Check This Out