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No easy answers on rising number of military suicides

'More work needs to be done,' U.S. Senator Tim Kaine said while hosting a roundtable at Fort Eustis.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Military suicides in 2018 reached their highest number in five years: 541 active troops killed themselves, 40 more than the year before.

Locally, three sailors from the USS George H.W. Bush took their own lives in September.

Last year, sailor Brandon Caserta ended his life on the flight line of his helicopter squadron HSC-28 after he complained of bullying from his chain of command.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told 13News Now last month that the military branches are doing their best to grapple with a difficult problem.

"I believe we have the means and the resources to get ahead of this and do better than our civilian counterparts," he said. "Our services are committed to doing this. I am committed to doing this."

RELATED: Defense Secretary vows branches will continue to fight suicide in the ranks

On Friday, following what he called a "wonderful roundtable discussion" at Fort Eustis, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said, "There is a lot more we need to do."

Especially galling to Kaine: the Defense Health Agency's target of 28 days to respond to someone reaching out for help.

"You wouldn't have a 28 day wait for somebody with a broken arm," he said. "You wouldn't have a 28 day wait on a torn rotator cuff. So the notion that somebody reaching out for mental health assistance, the standard should be 28 days, that's unacceptable."

Kaine said when it comes to long wait times, bullying and other mental health-related issues, "There's more to do, from the top, and that includes Congress."

RELATED: Navy acknowledges three sailors from USS George H.W. Bush committed suicide in week's time