A Norfolk-based sailor’s family was left grieving after his suicide. Now, they want answers from the Navy.
Melissa Will never thought she would bury her son.
Kody Lee Decker died on October 29, the first in a cluster of four suicides of sailors all stationed at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center in Norfolk.
He was 22 years old, and also left behind a wife and infant son.
Will said the Navy didn’t do enough to help Kody.
“They didn’t keep my son safe,” she told WHRO.
Despite rising suicide rates, Congress passed the 2023 defense spending bill with little reference to servicemembers’ mental health.
The bill mandates evaluations of the mental health system, but doesn’t fund additional resources available directly to servicemembers.
Kody endured verbal abuse and harassment from superiors on the USS Bataan, Will said. A sailor close to Kody on the Bataan confirmed Kody had spoken about harassment to them.
According to Will, he checked into the mental health ward at Portsmouth Naval Hospital.
Will and the Navy both declined to provide Kody’s medical records.
After his hospital stay, Kody wanted to be reassigned to another ship, his mother said.
While he waited for the transfer, he worked limited duty onshore. He started to go to therapy on base, Will said.
Kody’s family saw problems with the counseling he was receiving from the Navy. Will said Kody told her the appointments lasted 10 to 15 minutes.
“All they wanted to talk about was getting him out of the Navy,” said Will. “They didn’t try to help his mental health.”
A Navy spokesperson said they could not provide any documentation or confirmation related to Kody’s treatment, diagnoses or other medical information under HIPAA.
According to data from the Navy Personnel Command, 63 active duty sailors and 7 reservists died by suicide in 2022. The cluster of suicides that began with Kody’s was the second in 2022 among Hampton Roads installations.
According to a spokesperson for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center, “The circumstances surrounding these separate incidents are currently under investigation by local police departments and the U.S. Navy. … We remain fully engaged with 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.”
The military has yet to implement the Brandon Act, named for Brandon Caserta, a sailor stationed at Norfolk who took his own life in 2018.
The law lets sailors keep some mental health information private from their superiors and seek help outside their chain of command.
Will said her main concern now is the implementation of the law.
“These are people. These are not just numbers,” she said. “My son mattered. He mattered. And in the Navy, it did not seem like he mattered.”