New Bill Could Force Changes to Medical Care at BUD/S for SEAL Trainees


Kyle Mullen died of pneumonia hours after completing “Hell Week” at Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, the selection course for Navy SEAL candidates. A new law written by Mullen’s hometown congressman would require the Navy to reexamine medical care provided to sailors during BUD/S. Photo courtesy of Emily Kelly. US Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

Photo courtesy of Emily Kelly. US Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

The infamously grueling SEAL training known as BUD/S may have to revamp the medical care that recruits get if a New Jersey congressman gets his way.

The new rule, which was attached to the massive federal spending bill that controls the Pentagon budget, came as a response to the February death of SEAL trainee Kyle Mullen, a 24-year-old former college football player from Manalapan, New Jersey. New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, who represents Manalapan, introduced the rule.

“Congress and [the Department of Defense] must insist that medical care, aggressive monitoring, and oversight be provided now, without delay, to every Navy SEAL candidate during high-stress training,” Smith said in introducing the amendment, which he dubbed the Kyle Mullen Navy Safety Enhancement amendment.


US Navy SEAL candidates participate at BUD/S training. US Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt.

US Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt.

Mullen died at BUD/S — short for Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training — in February, hours after completing “Hell Week,” the course’s five-day, nonstop training event that traditionally represents the crux of BUD/S. The 24-year-old former college football player was found unresponsive in his dorm room and was later found to have been suffering from pneumonia caused by a staph infection. A sports-drink-sized bottle was found filled with bloody sputum, according to an autopsy report.

If Smith’s rule becomes law, it would require the Navy to review medical procedures in all “high-stress training environments” like BUD/S. The rule was attached to the National Defense Authorization Act as a last-minute amendment Thursday, July 14, which was later passed by the House, 329-101.

According to Smith’s spokesperson Michael Finan, the amendment would require the Navy to review medical care that oversees sailors in BUD/S and report to the secretary of the Navy on any needed improvements or policy changes.

BUD/S Death SEAL Mullen

Kyle Mullen, left, his mother, Regina Mullen, and brother, TJ, after a football game at Yale, where Kyle was voted a team captain. Photo courtesy of Regina Mullen.

Photo courtesy of Regina Mullen.

“The timing was right to do with the NDAA,” Finan said. “Because [the Navy] is still doing their investigation, we want to show that Congress wants this done. We’ve got their attention, and this shows we’re watching them.”

Navy spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Kara Handley said the Navy could not comment on legislative matters but insisted that BUD/s has a robust medical protocol.

“Medical professionals, specifically trained to treat candidates, attend every assessment evolution with rapid response medical staff support,” Handley told Coffee or Die Magazine in a statement. “The BUD/S first phase of Assessment and Selection culminates in a week long crucible designed to assess attributes within an environment that mirrors combat stress. All candidates receive head-to-toe medical evaluations, including a full set of core vitals, a minimum of once a day and as required throughout the week, as well as upon conclusion of the assessment event.”

Handley insisted that BUD/S trainees who seek medical attention are not penalized for it. “We encourage all candidates to seek medical care with no impact to their status in our selection pathway,” she said.

The bill now goes to the Senate for reconciliation, where it is unclear whether the rule is likely to become law in the bill’s final version.

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Matt White is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a Pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism. He also teaches journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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