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Navy 'energized' to hire more mental health providers following rash of sailor suicides

Chief of Naval Personnel says there should be no stigma associated with seeking help. Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman also speaks about new policy on COVID vaccinations.

NORFOLK, Va. — A top admiral says the Navy is "energized" when it comes to getting sailors more mental health help.

Between last April and this January, eight sailors from two local commands are believed to have taken their own lives.

Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Personnel, Manpower and Training Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman said Thursday that the Navy is working hard to hire more mental health providers despite what he characterized as "a dearth" of such professionals nationwide.

"The Navy at-large is energized around this topic," he said.

Cheeseman said the Navy intends to get limited-duty sailors any help they need, to return them to full duty as soon as possible.

When asked about the stigma associated with seeking help and what the Navy can do to eliminate that, Cheeseman said it begins with leadership.

"From a stigma perspective, it is a sailor who needs a little help that we're trying to get healthy again. That's the job we need to do. There's shouldn't be any stigma associated with that," he said.

Cheeseman said it will involve changing the culture within the chain of command.

He said the Navy is "creating frameworks and policies...that enable leaders at all levels not to inadvertently say no to any of their given shipmates for any potential problems."

Another major personnel issue facing the Navy was resolved this week when new administrative guidance was published stating that COVID-19 vaccination status can no longer be considered when determining which personnel can deploy.

"Those sailors who are unvaccinated have no deployment limitations at all. So, they're back on the train as far as their career path goes," said Cheeseman. "They're not limited in any type of duty they can go to. SEC NAV, CNO, certainly SEC DEF, pretty clear about, 'hey, everybody has the same opportunity, off we go.' That's where we are with the law. "

Cheeseman was at Naval Station Norfolk, holding an "all-hands call."

At Vista Point Conference Center, he met with around 350 sailors, who mostly had questions about pay, career advancement, and challenges they've encountered trying to navigate the Navy's computer systems.

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