The Navy has seen a disproportionately high number of deserters over the past three years compared to other branches of the U.S. military, raising a cause for concern, particularly related to mental health, NPR reported.
There were 157 sailors who illegally fled the Navy, more than doubling the total from 2019 (63) and about a 150% increase since 2020 (98), Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Devin Arneson told NPR.
The number of deserters had been declining during the Trump administration, according to the report.
Army desertions had dropped 47% from 328 to 174 from 2019 to 2021, while the Marine Corps had 59 desertions in 2019, falling to just 31 in 2021. The Coast Guard had not had a deserter between 2019 and 2021.
Desertion can lead to dishonorable discharge, forfeiting pay, loss of benefits, or even jail time.
"Somebody who just doesn't like the environment, it's almost impossible to leave," former JAG officer Stephanie Kral told NPR.
Issues of mental health do not generally lead to a discharge, because more mental healthcare to help the enlisted is desired, according to Kral.
"Somebody who's suffering with an acute mental health crisis," she continued, "should not ordinarily result in a mental health discharge. What should happen is that they receive the care and treatment that they need to be ready to rehab their mental health and then go back to being a member of the fleet. Unfortunately, that's not always what we see."
Kral told NPR junior service members need more attention to deal with the stresses of service.
"Regardless of what upper-level leadership says about trying to erase the stigma of mental health in our services, that does not play out when you get to the boots on the ground or the deck-plate level of actual experiences of junior service members," Kral told NPR.
She added a call for reform to help deal with the desertions for those who feel they have no way out.
"Right now, the ability to discharge or to end the contract early is essentially entirely in the hands of big Navy, big Air Force, big Army," Kral continued to NPR. "They are the ones that get to decide
"So it puts the military in a position of power to, frankly, just abuse their people [and] not provide them resources [and] put them in situations like on the [USS] George Washington."
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