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Parents of Virginia sailor who died by suicide press Navy to address housing: 'It could've been preventable'

Mary Graft: 'It's to help every single sailor that's going through the same thing our son was'
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Posted at 2:26 PM, May 24, 2023

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The parents of a locally-based sailor who died by suicide are taking their fight to Washington to get the Navy to address housing for junior sailors.

Xavier Sandor died by suicide while serving on USS George Washington in April 2022.

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"It's to help every single sailor that's going through the same thing our son was," said Mary Graft, his mother.

Sandor was just 19 years old when he took his own life on the ship with his Navy-issued gun.

"It could've been preventable. They knew what was happening," his father John said.

Sandor's parents say he had been complaining about living on the ship and said there were a number of issues with it.

The Master at Arms worked the night shift and they say it wasn't easy to sleep during the day at the noisy shipyard. They say he often slept in his car.

"Prisoners pretty much had it better than he did," John Sandor said.

Now, they're working with the U.S. Senators from Sandor's home state of Connecticut to have Congress pass a bill so junior sailors can live in commercial housing if they're assigned to a ship undergoing extensive maintenance.

It would also increase the number of mental health counselors assigned to larger ships.

"It changes the fact of a junior sailor automatically getting housing or allowance for housing," John said.

Sandor was one of three Sailors assigned to the Washington to die by suicide in the same week in April 2022.

The suicides prompted the Navy to examine what led to the suicides and to look into living conditions for sailors assigned to ships at shipyards.

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Last week,the Navy released the report on quality of lifeand found several deficiencies, including things like inconvenient parking, lack of food options, and morale issues due to sailors being assigned to a ship undergoing maintenance.

"Throughout that investigation and assessment of Quality of Service, it was pointedly obvious that the Navy had failed the George Washington," Adm. Daryl Caudle, the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command said during a press call last week.

The bill will now go through the process of becoming law. Sandor's parents say they're fighting for accountability.

"I promised by son when I was holding him in a Virginia funeral home. I promised him that I wouldn't let your death go in vain and I'm keeping to that promise," said John.

WTKR has been reporting on other efforts to address Sailor mental health. Last week, Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia) introduced a bill that in part requires sailors on limited duty to receive more mental health screenings.

Congresswoman Jen Kiggans

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In addition, the Pentagon recently began implementing the Brandon Act, which is named after a once locally-based sailor and helps empower service members to get mental health treatment.

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