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Following suicides, Navy says, 'We have let our people down'

The report from U.S. Fleet Force Command directs 48 corrective actions following multiple sailor suicides.

NORFOLK, Va. — "We have let our people down."

That is a key line from a pair of new documents released Thursday by the Navy related to investigations into a string of sailor suicides.

Three USS George Washington sailors died by suicide within a week last April. A fourth GW crew member took his own life this January.

The new 200-page report from U.S. Fleet Forces Command is critical of Newport News Shipbuilding, where the GW has been under repair since 2017.

The document says infrastructure at the shipyard is "insufficient," listing parking, transportation, and access to food and nutritional options as three problems.

The report said: "This directly contributed to poor sailor quality of service and morale.

The report spells out 48 corrective actions.

"Our actions going forward will speak to how seriously we take this issue," said Admiral Daryl Caudle, Commander, of U.S. Fleet Forces Command. "And we will not rest until we are certain that the Navy is providing the quality of service standards that our sailors and families deserve."

 A second document, "Setting a Course for Sailor Quality of Life" looks at both the GW suicides and four others that took place last fall among "limited duty" sailors assigned to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center.

The memo, from Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday and Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, states sailors "deserve a strategy for strengthening their mental and physical health."

It goes on to state that sailors deserve to go to sea, and to have "convenient access to free, high-speed Wi-Fi."

It directs the vice chief of naval operations to report back within 90 days on a strategy for execution.

The memo states, "We must be resolute in our commitment to care for our people."

This week, Rep. Jen Kiggans (R, VA-02) introduced the "Sailor Standard of Care Act."

The measure focuses on "limited duty sailors" by directing the Navy to expedite care, increase mental health screenings, and establish a framework to improve the mental health of the sailors.

"One suicide is too many. So, this legislation was important to me because I wanted to find a meaningful way that we could work on the mental health of our men and women and reduce the suicides," Kiggans said in an interview with 13News Now. "So, what this bill specifically does is require the Navy, for commands where there are 15 or more limited duty sailors, that they have a mental health provider-type person."

Rep. Rob Wittman (R, VA-01) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D, VA-03) are joining Kiggans in co-sponsoring the bill.

The national suicide and crisis lifeline is available by calling or texting 988. There is also an online chat at 988lifeline.org.

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