Navy concludes suicides of three sailors assigned to USS GW were not connected
The Navy’s investigation of the Three sailors committed suicide The USS George Washington was assigned as the investigator. They concluded that the deaths were not related, but that stress from life in a shipyard environment was a contributing factor in at least one suicide.
April saw Xavier Mitchell Sandor, Master-at Arms Seaman Recruit, 19, Interior Communications Electrician Third Class Natasha Huffman 24, and Mika’il Sharp Retail Services Specialist Third Class, 23 Within days of each other, suicide occurredThis raises questions about the living conditions aboard ships that are undergoing overhauls, as well as the access to mental health resources. According to the investigation, Mitchell-Sandor’s suicide was likely due to poor living conditions on board the ship.
Although Monday’s investigation concluded that the deaths were not connected and that each sailor was suffering from his own personal struggles, it provides more information about the shipyard environment and the “overwhelming stress” on mental health resources.
Since 2017, the GW has been docked at Virginia while undergoing a long-term overhaul that will prolong the aircraft carrier’s life expectancy but make parts of the ship essentially a construction zone.
Only Mitchell-Sandor, out of the three sailors, lived aboard the ship during the months that led up to his death. According to the investigation, Mitchell-Sandor stated to his friends that he would sleep in his car more often than the ship because of the living conditions.
Conditions included construction noises such as needle gunning, bells going off, and cold temperatures. There was also no hot water or power for periods.
Mitchell-Sandor struggled to adapt to this environment and integrate into the Navy. He often drove for hours to visit his family or girlfriend, then drove back to work, not sleeping. His judgment was affected by chronic sleep deprivation and fatigue, which led to him believing that suicide was his only option.
Mitchell-Sandor rejected an offer to move to a better place in the months before his death. According to the investigation, he should have been encouraged by more senior sailors or a mentor.
The investigation found that “This was the right time for intrusive leaders.”
The investigation revealed that Mitchell-Sandor and the other sailors did not have an assigned mentor. All three sailors were assigned to the GW as their first ship assignment.
The Navy is conducting an expanded investigation into the quality and safety of life aboard ships that are subject to extended maintenance in shipyards. The second investigation will make recommendations to address some of those issues that were raised in the first investigation.
The Navy’s ability to provide mental health services was also questioned in Monday’s initial investigation.
According to the investigation, mental health professionals for the GW described the patient load as “overwhelming” even before the deaths of the three sailors in April 2022.
Only Huffman, out of the three sailors, sought mental health services before she died.
According to the investigation, junior sailors may not always feel comfortable seeking out support. It was reported that “multiple sailors” said that their leaders didn’t want to discuss, or feel uncomfortable discussing, mental health issues with junior sailors.
The Navy has provided additional support to the GW since the suicides to ensure that sailors who need support services are met.
“We have taken additional steps to ensure the well-being and care of our service personnel but the bottom line, we can, and WILL, do more for our Sailors, and their families,” stated Rear Adm. John F. Meier (commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic), in a statement.
Four sailors were assigned to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center in Norfolk, Virginia, months after the suicides of the three GW sailor. Suicide within a month.
When asked about the recent spate of suicides in the Navy, Lloyd Austin, Defense Secretary, said that “We know there’s concern across the board for mental health access, and there’s an acute shortage of resources, so our investments are as large as possible and we want to ensure that all of our leaders are doing the right thing.”
For confidential support, service members and veterans in crisis or who have thoughts of suicide or are having difficulties with their lives, as well as those who know a veteran or service member in crisis, they can call the Military Crisis Line/Veterans Crisis Line 24 hours a days, 7 days a week. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 or text 838255 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
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