After sailor’s suicide, Shelton family demands change from Congress

Just months after joining the Navy, Sandor took his own life aboard the U.S.S. George Washington last April.

John Craven

May 12, 2023, 10:50 PM

Updated 341 days ago

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The family of a sailor from Shelton, who took his own life at 19 years old, made an urgent plea to Congress on Friday –improve living conditions and prevent more military suicides.
“HE WANTED TO SERVE HIS COUNTRY”
Xavier Sandor was a standout football quarterback, but he had a higher calling.
“He wanted to serve his country,” said Xavier Sandor’s father, John Sandor.
That calling was the military.
“He wanted to follow in my dad and brother's steps,” said Xavier Sandor’s mother, Mary Graft. “Both of them served in the Navy.”
“PRISONERS HAVE IT BETTER”
But Sandor’s first ship would be his last.
Just months after joining the Navy, Sandor took his own life aboard the U.S.S. George Washington last April. The aircraft carrier is undergoing a massive, multi-year renovation at a shipyard in Virginia – making it an around-the-clock construction site.
“Prisoners have it better,” said John Sandor. “The conditions were awful. Sometimes there wasn't hot water or enough food, and the noises and smells were awful. And you had to live on that ship.”
On Friday, his parents urged Congress to pass The Seaman Xavier Sandor Support for Sailors Act, which would offer housing vouchers to sailors on dry-docked ships.
“The conditions on the U.S.S. George Washington were simply unacceptable,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut). “No young man should have been living on that ship.”
MULTIPLE SUICIDES
Two other George Washington sailors took their own lives during the same week as Sandor. But a months-long Navy investigation concluded, “There was no correlation between the three deaths.”
As for Sandor, investigators acknowledged that “cold temperatures, constant noise, and periods without hot water or power” contributed to his suicide. But the report concluded that Sandor was “dealing with multiple life stressors which continued to build over several months.” Commanders also said the junior sailor rejected multiple offers to move to another part of the ship.
Beyond poor living conditions, the report found major shortcomings in mental health services. Providers for the GW said the patient volume was “overwhelming.”
The bill expands offers more pay for psychologists and rolls back red tape to get them hired faster.
NAVY MAKING CHANGES
The Navy has since moved U.S.S. George Washington sailors to barracks and initiated an Independent Review Commission on suicides.
“I take personal ownership for some of the failures that we saw in Norfolk and other places,” Admiral Michael Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, told Sen. Richard Blumenthal during an Armed Services Committee hearing last month.
Still, Blumenthal and Murphy both said top brass have yet to endorse their legislation. Despite the Navy's reluctance, both senators are pushing for the bill to be included in the next national defense budget.
“MY SON IS NOT A ‘LEARNING CURVE’”
Xavier Sandor's family hopes his death saves another life.
“It doesn’t bring him back,” said Graft.
Sandor’s father said it shouldn’t take Congress to force real change.
“My son is not a ‘learning curve,’” he said. “He decided to serve his country and the Navy failed him.”


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