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White House Lifts Ban on Military Suicide Condolences

Society & Culture  (tags: americans, suicide, government, rights, culture, death, freedoms, humans, society )

- 2542 days ago -
The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it will begin sending condolence letters to the next-of-kin of service members who commit suicide, said a White House statement.

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Carrie B (306)
Wednesday July 6, 2011, 4:42 pm
"The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it will begin sending condolence letters to the next-of-kin of service members who commit suicide, said a White House statement.
"This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated," President Barack Obama said in the statement. "But these Americans served our nation bravely ... we need to do everything in our power to honor their service, and to help them stay strong for themselves, for their families and for our nation."

The move comes nearly six weeks after a group of senators -- 10 Democrats and one Republican -- asked President Barack Obama to change what they called an "insensitive" policy that dates back several administrations.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer led the bipartisan group and was pleased with the administration's policy change.
"This will ... do a great deal to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health treatment that prevents so many from seeking the care they need," she said in a statement Wednesday.

The lack of condolence letters in instances of suicide has been the subject of protest by some military families.
"It's bittersweet," said Gregg Keesling, father to Army Spc. Chancellor Keesling, who killed himself while serving in Iraq. "It does not bring our son back, but I think it does send a powerful message that mental health in our military can be addressed."

CNN first reported in 2009 about the family of Army Spc. Keesling.
The family set up a wall to pay tribute to Keesling in their Indiana home. Along with his uniform and the flag from his burial service, a space was left for the expected condolence letter from the commander in chief.

Upset when they learned a suicide did not merit a letter from the president, Gregg Keesling wrote to the president and the Army chief of staff requesting the policy be changed. He argued that his son's suicide was a result of what he was exposed to during war and that it deserved to be considered caused by battle.

"They didn't die because they were weak," said the president's statement. "And the fact that they didn't get the help they needed must change."

According to an Army report last year, annual suicide rates in the Marine Corps and the Army -- the two branches most involved in combat operations in Iraq and Afganistan -- increased steadily between 2004 and 2009, to more than 20 per 100,000 people. During that time the rate for those two branches surpassed the age-adjusted, national civilian average, whereas suicide rates for the Air Force and Navy stayed below the national average.

In 2001, the suicide rate among Marines, like the Air Force and Navy, was about half the civilian rate, and the Army's, while higher than the other three branches, was still below the civilian rate, according to the Army report."

By Dan Lothian, White House Correspondent

Jae A (316)
Wednesday July 6, 2011, 4:56 pm

It's about time they took this reality check as something real and unavoidable and they should be considered as 'combat' related illnesses/death.

Thanks for the find and the sharing of the story Carrie.

Carrie B (306)
Wednesday July 6, 2011, 5:55 pm
Thanks Jae, I agree with you completely.

Mandi T (367)
Wednesday July 6, 2011, 6:18 pm
I agree, It's about time.
Tks Carrie for the post.

Lisa H (180)
Wednesday July 6, 2011, 7:42 pm
I had no idea that this was a policy, but I'm damn proud of Boxer for changing it! What a horrible decision this was! Now I have to look up who was responsible for the initial ban. I must say, during this terrible time in the history of our government, I am thankful to live in Boxer's SoCal district. She is one of very few who actually fights for both her constituents and for our environment. She is the only Senator I've ever supported financially, and I will as long as she is in office!

Alexandra Rodda (180)
Thursday July 7, 2011, 4:54 am
It is the decent thing to do. A lot of those people would not have committed suicide if they were not stressed beyond endurance by being in the wars.

Anne P (174)
Thursday July 7, 2011, 5:50 am
It's about time this absurd policy was lifted. Thank you, Senator Boxer and President Obama!

Myraida Diaz (136)
Thursday July 7, 2011, 6:43 am
Those persons and their families are human beings....

For the love of God!!!!!!!

DORIS L (61)
Thursday July 7, 2011, 7:31 am
It's about time.

patricia lasek (317)
Thursday July 7, 2011, 7:56 am
It is about time! They too are casualties of war.

Past Member (0)
Thursday July 7, 2011, 11:16 am
Thank goodness. How can anyone predict how they will be affected by war? It's time we blessed all who serve and all who tried to serve and for goodness sake...isn't it time we treated them all better when they return home!!!?

Randy Stein (19)
Tuesday July 26, 2011, 10:59 am
I find the Army's numbers to be questionable. I suspect the numbers of suicides are higher and that many suicides are mis-reported. To "proect the family" being the excuse. Or maybe to protect "unit morale." Amd, OF COURSE, the Navy & Air Force has fewer suicides. It's so much easier to deal with when you are miles away from the people who die from your bombs or missles. And less likely to see your buddiy's die or be dismmebred right next to you. The high costs of war are not just financial, but those in Washington are usually way too far from it to understand that.
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