“It cost me a son”: Navy report says living conditions, limited duty assignments led to local suicides
The Navy has been under fire since it was made public that three sailors killed themselves within a week on board the USS George Washington while it was undergoing an overhaul at Newport News.
The Navy found 57 percent of suicides over the last five years have happened while ships are undergoing maintenance.
Another four sailors died by suicide while assigned to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintence Center in Norfolk within a month in late 2022. All of them were on limited duty, which required them to be assigned to a shore command.
Each of them were receiving mental health services but the report paints a picture of a command that struggled to keep track of sailors' needs when they were not in treatment.
MARMC has the highest number of sailors on limited duty in the fleet, with more than 500 sailors stationed there. The report found the one Deployability Coordinator assigned to keep track of sailors on limited duty was overwhelmed. Leadership discussed asking the Navy to move some of them to other units, but never applied for the necessary waiver.
“To be honest with you, I think the George Washington should have been a wake up call,” said Robert Decker, whose son Kody was one of the sailors who died while stationed at MARMC. “They should have become proactive. But whatever their reasons are … they were not. And it cost me a son.”
Kody Deker, along with the other three sailors at MARMC, used a personal firearm to die by suicide. The Navy found their deaths were not related.
The Navy says the command climate at MARMC did not contribute directly to their deaths.
Among the Navy’s recommendations is that MARMC include a medical unit based within the unit.The Navy requires sexual assault victims to have a counselor dedicated to them as they move through their treatment. The report recommends use the same procedure for sailors who express thoughts of suicide.
A second Navy probe looked at the underlying causes of three suicides that happened within a week on board the USS George Washington in 2022. The report details a number of quality of life issues onboard the carrier.
The aircraft carrier was undergoing a four-year, mid-life refueling at Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding facility at Newport News.
The Navy blames long-standing problems with parking and transportation for the difficult living conditions.
Some sailors slept in their cars. Others took two hours on shuttle buses to make their berth on the ship, which was still an active construction zone. Budget cuts pushed the commander to move the crew on board in the summer of 2021, when funding ended for outside housing.
Each of the sailors who died on the USS George Washington were on their first tour. The report recommends no first-term sailor be required to spend more than two years on a vessel in a shipyard.
In April, another young sailor died by suicide in Newport News, after being assigned to the submarine USS Montana just after leaving bootcamp.
No officers face discipline in either probe. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is also investigating the deaths at MARMC.
If you or someone you know in the military is experiencing thoughts of suicide, call the national crisis line at 988.