NEWPORT NEWS, Va. —
Top Navy leaders on Tuesday toured the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which has lost nine crew members in the past two years.
Six of those deaths are suspected suicides. Three of them were in one week last month.
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday visited the vessel at Newport News Shipbuilding.
The Navy didn't allow media to be present or to speak to the participants before, during or after the event.
"I think it's a good thing. I commend them. But it's too little, too late," said Patrick Caserta, whose 21-year-old sailor son Brandon took his own life, following alleged bullying within a different Navy command.
Caserta and his wife, Teri, pushed for the passage of "The Brandon Act," which was signed into law in March by President Joe Biden. The measure is designed to give military members confidential mental health help.
After what they have been through, and with this new law passed, the Casertas said they are "heartbroken" over the USS GW deaths.
"It's disappointing but at the same time, it's not surprising because nothing's changed in the military," said Patrick Caserta. "The first step to a cure is admitting you have a problem. And to this day, they haven't admitted they have a problem. And they won't."
"We thought we were beyond this," said Teri Caserta. "The fear of retaliation for asking for help is still out there, and I think that's what has to stop is this stigma."
House Armed Services Committee Vice Chair Elaine Luria agreed.
"I think that there is this perception of a stigma for people who do reach out and say, 'I'm going to raise my hand. 'I need help,'" she said. "I think also for people who do reach out and need help, there's really not enough resources. There's not enough providers."
Luria said she hopes the high-level visit from the brass makes a meaningful difference.
"I would say this is like many other things in the Navy, sometimes a reaction after something tragic has happened. And I hope it will lead to corrective actions, recommendations to help the GW. I hope it will lead to changes that will improve the quality of life for sailors across all shipyards in the fleet," she said.
The GW has been tied up in Newport News Shipbuilding since 2017, undergoing a complex overhaul and mid-life nuclear refueling.
The overhaul is a year behind schedule, and it is believed that the job will not be completed until 2023.