The US Navy is investigating four apparent suicides in a one-month period at a shore-based facility to determine whether the deaths are related in any way and whether sailors had enough mental health and medical support, according to a Navy official familiar with the situation.
The deaths by suicide from October 30 to November 26 involved enlisted sailors at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center in Norfolk, Virginia.
The Navy confirmed the four recent deaths, with Navy Capt. Jay Young, the commanding officer of MARMC, saying in a statement to CNN: “It is with a heavy heart we can confirm that four Sailors assigned to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center (MARMC) in Norfolk, Virginia, have died in the last month. The circumstances surrounding these separate incidents are currently under investigation by local police departments and the U.S. Navy.”
“We mourn the loss of our shipmates and friends,” Young said.
Each of the deaths is being individually investigated under standard Navy procedures. But there is also a “command investigation” into whether the deaths may have been a result of any common circumstances, the official said. The Navy has brought in mental health and trauma counselors and held multiple mandatory suicide awareness and prevention briefings.
“One suicide is too many and MARMC leadership is taking a proactive approach to support the team, improve mental fitness, and manage the stress of its Sailors. We remain fully engaged with our Sailors and their families to ensure their health and well-being, and to ensure a climate of trust that encourages Sailors to ask for help,” Young said.
The Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center has about 3,000 personnel of which 1,500 are active duty. About a quarter of those on active duty typically are personnel assigned to the center on restricted duty because they are unable to serve aboard ships due to physical or mental health reasons. The Navy, citing privacy, declined to speak about the duty status of the four deceased sailors.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has put a spotlight on suicide prevention in the military, and he has pushed the Defense Department to do more to destigmatize mental health. “Mental health is health, period,” he has often said.
Last year, 519 service members died by suicide, according to the Pentagon’s annual report about suicide within the military. The number was a decrease from 2020, which saw 582 cases of suicide in the military. Despite the single-year 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 at many levels.”
“When young people sign up to serve, they and their families accept a certain level of risk. Dying by suicide while on active duty should under no circumstances 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. Notes he left behind mentioned hazing and bullying from other members of his unit.
The deaths at the Norfolk facility are reminiscent of a similar series of events at the nearby shipyard in Newport News. This past spring, three sailors on board the USS George Washington died by suicide within one week.
Within the previous 12 months, the crew of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier had suffered seven deaths, at least four of which were by suicide. The Navy is still investigating whether there was any relationship between the suicides and if there were any common factors that caused them.
Editor’s Note: If you or a loved one have contemplated suicide, call The National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to connect with a trained counselor.