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Top Navy leaders visit aircraft carrier following recent suicides among crew

By Oren Liebermann, CNN

The Navy’s top leaders visited the USS George Washington following a number of recent suicides among crew members as the Navy continues to investigate the deaths.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro held group discussions with sailors of different ranks, while Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, toured the ship to meet with the crew and observe the living conditions. Over the past 12 months, seven members of the crew have died, including four by suicide, prompting the Navy to open an investigation into the command climate and culture on board the Nimitz-class carrier.

Former and current crew members who spoke with CNN earlier this month described “awful” conditions, including frequent power outages and unbearable temperatures. “This is the very bottom,” one sailor currently assigned to the carrier told CNN.

In early May, the Navy announced that sailors who did not want to live on the ship could move to different housing. Of the approximately 420 sailors who lived on board, nearly 300 have so far chosen to leave, the Navy said Tuesday.

Del Toro vowed there is more the Navy must do to support the crew of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The George Washington has been at the Newport News shipyard for years going through its mid-life refueling, but the process has been delayed multiple times.

Suicide among service members has been a priority for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who has said in the past, “One death by suicide is one too many.”

On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced the leadership for the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee, which Austin established in March to better understand and forestall suicides among service members. The committee, led by clinical psychologist Gayle Iwamasa from the Department of Veterans Affairs, will look at previous suicide prevention efforts and make recommendations to improve the military’s approach.

The committee will begin visiting a series of high-risk installations this summer, and a final report is due to Congress next February.

Editor’s Note: If you or a loved one have contemplated suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741.

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