Therapist weighs in on mental health impacts on servicemembers after USS George Washington Sailors' deaths

USS George Washington (CVN 73)
Posted at 9:50 PM, Apr 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-25 23:18:12-04

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - Three Sailors from the USS George Washington aircraft carrier were found dead in less than one week.

According to a report from CNN, the Navy said the three Sailors' deaths are being investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and local authorities.

One Sailor was found unresponsive onboard the carrier last Friday, while two other Sailors were found at off-base locations on April 9 and 10, CNN reports.

News 3 talked with Congresswoman Elaine Luria, a Navy veteran, Tuesday night about the investigation.

"Definitely the crew of the George Washington and the families of these sailors are in our thoughts and prayers. We look forward to understanding more about what happened,” Luria said. “I understand that Hampton Police are helping to investigate this. They're really tracking the situation and hope to learn more soon."

The Navy identified the Sailor found dead on April 9 as Retail Services Specialist 3rd Class Mikail Sharp and the Sailor found dead on April 10 as Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Natasha Huffman.

“It is with a heavy heart we can confirm that a USS George Washington (CVN-73) Sailor was found unresponsive on board the ship on April 15. The Sailor was treated by the medical team on board before being transported to Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News, where the Service member passed away. The incident is under investigation and the command continues to cooperate with NCIS," the Navy said in a statement.

The third Sailor was identified as Master-at-Arms Seaman Recruit Xavier Hunter Mitchell-Sandor, according to USNI News. The outlet reported he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

USNI News reported that all three Sailors died by suicide.

“It can be extremely traumatic,” licensed psychotherapist Dr. Sarah Williams told News 3. “It’s like returning to a site of an explosion every single day.”

Williams, a Navy widow, regularly works with servicemembers.

“This is a very likely event that could be considered a recipe for PTSD and making sure that those signs and symptoms are watched,” she said. “When there’s no answers, then it makes one have a more difficult experience with trying to process the loss.”

A Navy spokesperson told News 3 resources including chaplains, psychologists, counselors and leadership are engaged with crew members and are available to provide support and counseling to those grieving.

Meanwhile, Williams said it's important to embrace the shared loss and grief while investing in trauma-informed care.

“Sometimes, there could be a delayed response. Whenever there’s a trauma, sometimes there’s a disassociation with the event in order to survive the event,” she said. “Military personnel are trained to control emotions and stay attached to the mission so that they can accomplish what’s required.”

Which is why she says ongoing support is key for servicemembers in situations like this.

“Everyone, including the Sailors, are compassionate towards one another... patient, respectful of the fact that your emotions may not exactly be what you expect right now,” Williams said. “There should be a team effort, and there should be regular discussions and open dialogue about how to internalize and express the emotions that are occurring.”

A Navy spokesperson said there is no suggested correlation between the deaths of the three Sailors.

Newport News Shipyard is a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries.

News 3 reached out to Huntington Ingalls Industries about the investigation but are waiting to hear back.