Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro is slated to visit the USS George Washington Tuesday following a rash of suicides in the last year among sailors assigned to the ship, including three during a short span in April, according to military officials.
Ahead of Del Toro's visit, crew members have been instructed to clean up their work spaces and make the Virginia-based warship "look presentable," according to a source who spoke with NBC News.
Three suicides last month occurred on dry dock. The USS George Washington has been undergoing extensive repairs at the Newport News Shipyard in Virginia since 2017.
According to NBC News, "several current and former" George Washington sailors were critical of the culture and "nearly uninhabitable" living conditions aboard the USS George Washington, which reportedly covers a lack of hot water, continuous electricity, and the constant noise created by regular construction on the ship — which is expected to run through at least March 2023.
When asked about the George Washington suicides at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, Del Toro said the Navy needs to "do a better job providing resources to the ship" and offering a "higher quality of life for those sailors in the shipyard," according to WTKR-TV in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Citing his Navy biography, Del Toro — who was sworn in last August — has prioritized "addressing the most pressing challenges confronting the U.S. Navy," along with "strengthening a naval culture of inclusiveness and respect."
During a site visit last month, Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Russell Smith, the service's senior enlisted leader, found the living conditions in the USS George Washington to be acceptable.
Smith also said the sailors, who get to go home at night, were not "sleeping in a foxhole like a Marine might be doing," according to a transcript of the address, released by the Navy.
"I think we probably could have done better to manage your expectations coming in here," Smith said. "I hear your concerns and you should always raise them, but you have to do so with reasonable expectations."
The majority of the 2,700 George Washington sailors reportedly go home after their shifts. However, roughly 400 either live out of state or don't have off-site housing.
Since the three suicides in April, the Navy has offered to relocate the 400 sailors into nearby military housing facilities.
And as of Friday, more than 280 sailors had accepted the Navy's offer, while the Navy works to secure additional accommodations for the remaining crew, according to reports.
In an updated statement, the Navy said the command "cares for the health and safety of every sailor" assigned to the George Washington, and that leadership has "taken unprecedented measures" to ensure that all sailors receive "immediate, holistic, and well-rounded care."
The statement continued: "While leadership works hard to identify potential at risk personnel that may benefit from this support, the Navy continues to encourage our sailors to ask for help and any service member who reports needing help will be provided with these resources and services."
The USS George Washington, the US Navy's sixth Nimitz class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, was originally christened by then-first lady Barbara Bush in 1990.
It was first deployed in the first Gulf War and has reportedly seen duty in Japan, Korea, the Caribbean, and South America.
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