By Barbara Starr and Oren Lieberman, CNN
(CNN) – The US Navy is investigating four apparent suicides over a month-long period at a shore-based facility to determine if the deaths are in any way related and if the sailors had sufficient mental health and medical support , according to a Navy report. official familiar with the situation.
Suicide deaths from October 30 to November 26 involved sailors enlisted at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center in Norfolk, Virginia.
The Navy has confirmed the four recent deaths, with Captain Jay Young, the commanding officer of MARMC, telling CNN in a statement, “It is with heavy hearts that we can confirm that four sailors assigned to the Regional Maintenance Center of the Atlantic Center (MARMC) in Norfolk, Va., died last month.The circumstances surrounding these separate incidents are currently being investigated by local law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Navy.
“We mourn the loss of our shipmates and friends,” Young said.
Each of the deaths is being investigated individually under standard Navy procedures. But there is also a “command inquiry” into whether the deaths may have been the result of common circumstances, the official said. The Navy brought in mental health and trauma counselors and held several mandatory suicide awareness and prevention briefings.
“One suicide is too much and MARMC management takes a proactive approach to supporting the team, improving mental fitness and managing stress for its sailors. We remain fully engaged with our sailors and their families to ensure their health and their well-being, and to provide an atmosphere of trust that encourages sailors to seek help,” said Young.
The Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center employs approximately 3,000 people of which 1,500 are on active duty. About a quarter of those on active duty are usually personnel assigned to the center on restricted duty because they cannot serve aboard ships for physical or mental health reasons. The Navy, citing confidentiality, declined to comment on the service status of the four deceased sailors.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has highlighted suicide prevention in the military and he has pushed the Department of Defense to do more to de-stigmatize mental health. “Mental health is health, period,” he often said.
Last year, 519 military personnel died by suicide, according to the Pentagon’s annual report on suicide in the military. The number was down from 2020, which saw 582 military suicides. Despite a single year’s decline, the overall suicide rate has slowly increased over the past decade.
Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton demanded that the Navy investigate the sailors’ command and called it a “serious failure on many levels.”
“When young people sign up to serve, they and their families accept a certain level of risk. Committing suicide while on active duty should never be one of those risks,” said Moulton, who served four tours with the Marines in Iraq. and sits on the House Armed Services Committee.
Last year, Moulton helped pass the Brandon Act, designed to make mental health services more accessible to service members. The law is named after Brandon Caserta, who died by suicide in 2018. The notes he left mentioned hazing and intimidation by other members of his unit.
The deaths at the Norfolk facility are reminiscent of a series of similar events at the nearby Newport News shipyard. Last spring, three sailors aboard the USS George Washington committed suicide within a week.
In the previous 12 months, the crew of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier had suffered seven deaths, including at least four by suicide. The Navy is still investigating whether there was a relationship between the suicides and whether there were common factors that caused them.
Editor’s Note: If you or a loved one has considered suicide, call The National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to connect with a qualified counselor.
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