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Medical examiner: USS Montana sailor's death a suicide

It is at least the ninth apparent suicide of a sailor in the past 11 months in the Hampton Roads area.

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

The death earlier this week of a sailor assigned to USS Montana was a suicide, the medical examiner with the Tidewater District confirmed to 13News Now on Friday.

It is at least the ninth apparent suicide of a sailor in the past 11 months in the Hampton Roads area, and the fifth for a service member stationed at a Navy vessel undergoing long-term maintenance at Newport News Shipbuilding.

A spokesperson for Submarine Force Atlantic said the sailor was found unresponsive Monday on the pier adjacent to the USS Montana by another crew at Newport News Shipbuilding.

The sailor was taken to Riverside Regional Medical Center and was pronounced dead.

"We deeply mourn the loss of our shipmate, and our thoughts and prayers are with the sailor’s family, friends, and coworkers during this difficult time," the spokesperson wrote in a statement on Tuesday. "The U.S. Navy is cooperating fully with authorities and the incident remains under investigation.” 

The medical examiner said the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head.

The mental well-being of its service members has been a growing concern for the Navy. The Secretary of the Navy assured lawmakers on Tuesday that the department is addressing the need to improve access to mental health care.

"We actually have additional funds, upwards of $200 million dedicated to this, in addition to the actual human element of trying to bring everyone together to try to solve this very, very graves problem that we face as a nation and as a Navy as well," said Carlos Del Toro, testifying before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense.

The Navy's recently-released "Mental Health Playbook" is designed to encourage mental health conversations between commanders and their sailors, and eliminate any stigma associated with seeking help.

The Navy is also planning to make chaplains regular members of the crew on ships with more than 300 sailors, instead of only the largest carriers as in the past.

The goal is for chaplains – who are both clergy in different denominations and naval officers – to connect with sailors, believers and non-believers alike, as life coaches.

Depression and anxiety have marked many young adults, especially post-pandemic, but struggles in the military carry unique challenges and security implications.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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