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Obama Lifts Ban on Condolence Letters for Military Suicides

Obama Lifts Ban on Condolence Letters for Military Suicides

 

Until today, if a military service member committed suicide while deployed to a combat zone, his or her next of kin could not expect to receive a letter of condolence.  Now, however, the Obama administration is reversing the policy, after a group of senators asked Obama to change the “insensitive” White House policy.  In his statement, Obama said that the reversal was part of his commitment to “removing the stigma associated with the unseen wounds of war.”

Families of service members who committed suicide while serving were understandably upset when the sacrifices made by the deceased were not formally recognized by the military, as they would be if a service member was killed in combat.  In 2009, Army Spc. Chancellor Keesling killed himself while deployed to Iraq, and his family began to speak out about what they saw as the prevailing view in the military: that many “consider suicide a dishonorable way to die.”

They were disturbed by the implication that suicide was not a serious issue, when in fact, the suicide rate is rising steadily within the branches of the military most involved in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Between 2004 and 2009, the suicide rate in the Army and Marine Corps passed the national average.

Clearly, something has to give. Instead of treating suicide like a shameful death, the military needs to address the mental health issues plaguing the people who are serving the United States in combat, and help them avoid this tragic, desperate decision.

“This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely,” said Obama. “They didn’t die because they were weak. And the fact that they didn’t get the help they needed must change.”

Bravo to the Obama administration for changing this offensive policy.  Let’s hope that this is just the first step in a larger campaign to destigmatize mental health issues in the military.

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Photo from soldiersmediacenter via flickr.

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36 comments

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10:43AM PDT on Sep 18, 2011

This should have been a no brainer.

8:58PM PDT on Aug 19, 2011

there is so much we had no idea about.

1:58PM PDT on Aug 19, 2011

Thanks for the article; There are positive changes occuring under the Obama adminstration, including this one.

11:56AM PDT on Jul 29, 2011

Wise decision.

4:37PM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

It's a shame that this policy ever existed. How painful for the families of these soldiers. This is a wrong finally made right. Now the Obama administration and the military really needs to address the underlying issues that are leading to so many suidices in the first place.

12:26PM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

That's great.

11:27AM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

WOW...in all my military years, I never knew this was a policy. I am so glad it has been reversed. I only wish I had known, I lost a couple friends this way while on active duty and I would have written myself to their families had I known about this policy. They were good people, did their jobs and sacrificed for their country and beliefs, it's just that the stress and emotional toll was more than they could cope with and they saw no other way out.

It could be anyone...Thanks to the President for changing this, these families deserve to be notified in a dignified and somber manner..most of the victims served with honor and dignity until things got out of hand.

More mental health help would go a long way in stopping this but with the hit one's record takes after a visit to mental health clinic, it's understandable to those who have served and are serving...we know better than to ask for help... perhaps times are changing, I certainly hope so.

7:43AM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

A good move, but it does not go far enough. The many suicides that occur outside the war zone, & those that predate the signing will still not be recognized. We will be paying for this war for many generations.

6:05AM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

Thanks for the article.

10:35PM PDT on Jul 7, 2011

It's a start but far more needs to be done.

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