VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY)—US Reps. Elaine Luria (D-Norfolk) and Bobby Scott (D-Newport News) are pressing the US Navy to expand mental health services and improve the quality of life aboard the USS George Washington aircraft carrier by using Defense Community Infrastructure Program funds.
In a news release from Luria’s office Tuesday, Luria said she and Scott sent the letter to Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro and Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Michael Gilday.
Both Navy officials recently visited the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier to speak with sailors and observe conditions directly.
The attention on the USS George Washington comes after a string of three suicides in less than a week in April among sailors assigned to the ship. In the past year, there have been seven reported deaths of those on the ship. Four of those were suicides.
The ship has been undergoing overhaul and refueling at Newport News Shipbuilding for several years. Some sailors have dwrite the environment as a culture of death, despair, and — when it comes to seeking help — discouragement.
“There is an urgent need for the Navy to engage with the local community and shipyard to explore opportunities to improve quality of life for sailors. This must include additional off ship accommodations, increased mental health services, and improved parking. We believe that funds from the DCIP Program could be leveraged to immediately address the need for additional off ship accommodations such as single sailor housing and improved parking,” Reps. Luria and Scott said in the letter. “We urge you to ensure that those impacted have both immediate access to the assistance they need and assurances that the status quo is no longer acceptable to Navy leadership. Individuals must be fully assured that concerns can be raised without reprisal. There are urgent needs now, in addition to the need for extensive and thorough assessment, review, and corrective action.”
In the wake of the deaths, the Navy announced it would allow most USS George Washington sailors to move to off-ship housing.
Additionally, in mid-April, the Navy sent a Special Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Team to assist with short-term mental health needs. There’s also a licensed clinical social worker serving as a resiliency counselor and an organic Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Team made up of sailors who are “first responders” for those who are at-risk.
However, Luria and Scott want more done.
Defense Community Infrastructure Program funds are intended to “address deficiencies in community infrastructure, supportive of a military installation, to enhance military value, installation resilience, and military family quality of life.”
Read Luria and Scott’s full letter here.