THE PENTAGON – It is too early for the Navy to determine if measures put in place after a Navy report found an overwhelmed mental health system and quality of life lapses for crews in extended repair and overhaul periods will have a positive effect, service leaders told reporters Monday.
It has been about six months since the Navy identified areas of needed improvement and began implementing pilots, programs and changes aimed at improving the quality of life for sailors assigned to ships in the Norfolk area shipyards, particularly HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding, said Rear Adm. Christopher Gray, quality of service cross-functional team lead. The cross-functional team and service need more time to determine if efforts are making a difference.
The Navy also issued two reports into a series for suicides of sailors assigned to USS George Washington (CVN-73) and at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center.
As part of the Navy’s actions after the quality of life report, now Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti set up a cross-functional team when she was vice chief of operations. The team focused on six areas of improvement, Gray said.
One of the changes underway is limiting the number of first-tour sailors assigned to a ship in maintenance, Gray said.
Another of the improvements is an online suggestion box at Huntington Ingalls introduced as a pilot today so sailors can submit concerns, Gray said.
“HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding division is actively engaged with the Navy and the City of Newport News to enhance Quality of Service for Navy sailors and shipbuilders at the shipyard,” the company said in a statement. “As communicated by Navy leadership today, significant progress has been made and we remain committed to the open dialogue and partnership that has advanced these initiatives and those that are still to come.”
The service also introduced a revised mental health playbook and commander’s risk mitigation dashboard. In addition, HII has added primary and women’s care services and is in the process of improving laboratory and pharmacy services, Gray said.
Submarines and carriers in the Huntington Ingalls properties have embedded mental health care professionals, as well as other mental health resources.
Parking, transportation and living quarters were issues highlighted in the quality of life report, and the cross-functional team has introduced a number of changes in order to better address the problems. The Navy started a pilot to introduce wi-fi in living quarters, reduced the number of sailors in most of the Huntington Hall rooms and began a parking study, as some of the approaches, Gray said.
The team is also looking at healthy food options and cooking options for sailors.
Gray did not say how the Navy and the cross-functional team plan to evaluate the success of the efforts. However, he did say the team aims to think through the proposal by starting changes as pilots, he said, highlighting the Wi-Fi program.
“If we rushed out and spent $90 million for Wi-Fi, only to find that the way we had implemented it, nobody was using it, then we would have wasted $90 million that we could have used to greater effect elsewhere,” Gray said. “And so we’re doing this pilot to make sure that we’re getting our money’s worth, that the sailors appreciate and are using that service, we will learn from that pilot. And then the intention is, from what we learned, make some adjustments, and roll it out Navy-wide, so that we can ensure that we get it right.”
The team does not want to just provide services, said Erica Plath, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy (Sustainment). Rather, it wants to use surveys to better understand sailor wants. The Navy wants to treat sailors like its customers, so the quality of the services provided matters, she said.
“Are they satisfied with the services so that we can really become an employer or remain an employer of choice?” Plath said.
The reports were prompted by a string of suicides aboard George Washington while it was docked at Newport News for its mid-life refueling and overhaul.
The Department of Defense’s annual suicide prevention report found the Navy had its worst suicide rate in four years in 2022, USNI News previously reported.