Pentagon Chief Acknowledges ‘Problem’ Aboard Nuclear-Powered USS Washington Amid Suicide Surge
03:46 GMT 12.05.2022 (Updated: 12:44 GMT 13.04.2023)
Earlier this month, the US Navy began allowing hundreds of sailors aboard the nuclear-powered USS George Washington (CVN-73) to offsite quarters at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia. Within the past year, seven sailors assigned to the dry-docked vessel have died, with at least one confirmed suicide and three suspected suicides.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday admitted the Pentagon and US Navy are faced with a “problem” when it comes to housing Navy sailors aboard vessels seeking repairs.
Austin’s comments come as the US Department of Defense awaits the results of two probes into the recent string of deaths aboard the USS George Washington, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that has been docked for refueling and a midlife overhaul since 2017.
“Whether or not we made the right choices is left to be said,” Austin told the House Appropriations Committee for the DoD, referring to the service’s recent decision to relocate hundreds of sailors from the dry-docked vessel.
“Certainly there’s a problem there,”
the Pentagon chief said, as reported by Stars and Stripes
. “We’ve got to understand what the problem is a bit more and then we have to figure out what to do to ensure we don’t have these kinds of problems in the future.”
Austin’s Wednesday remarks came in response to questions posed by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (R-OH), who claimed she was “terribly concerned” at the timeline for the ship’s repairs and the impact of that pace on sailors.
“For hundreds of sailors, they have no access to housing or a car, and they’re stuck on the ship,” Kaptur said. “This is really demoralizing.”
The US lawmaker pointed out that the aircraft carrier was initially slated to complete its work by late 2021, but is now expected to have repairs continue into 2023. Austin attributed the delays to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that the overhaul required for the nuclear-powered vessel is “very, very sophisticated work.”
Relatedly, Austin announced that he has ordered the formation of an independent review committee “to help us grapple with suicide.”
“To better understand it; to prevent it; and treat the unseen wounds that lead to it,” the Pentagon chief told the panel.