Breaking with longstanding concerns that officially memorializing military suicides might encourage them, President Obama announced on Wednesday that he would begin sending letters of condolence to the families of troops who kill themselves in combat zones.
“This decision was made after a difficult and exhaustive review of the former policy, and I did not make it lightly,” the president said in a statement. “This issue is emotional, painful and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely. They didn’t die because they were weak.”
As the number of military suicides has surged since 2001, the issue of presidential letters — which are sent to the families of every service member killed in action — has become a source of great dismay among families of suicides. Some organized letter-writing campaigns and prodded members of Congress to introduce legislation to overturn the policy, which has existed for several administrations.
In 2009, the Obama administration demurred, citing widespread concerns among veterans groups and senior military officers that such letters might be construed as sanctioning suicide. But on Wednesday, citing an 18-month review of the policy, Mr. Obama said he had concluded that by recognizing certain suicides, he might destigmatize the problem of mental illness within the military and thereby encourage service members to seek counseling.
“The fact that they didn’t get the help they needed must change,” the president’s statement said. “Our men and women in uniform have borne the incredible burden of our wars, and 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 new policy, which was first reported by CBS News, will apply only to troops who commit suicide in officially designated combat zones, mainly Afghanistan and Iraq. The letters will differ from those sent to troops killed in combat, though the White House declined to say precisely how.
In recent years, the military suicide rate has been above the rate for the general population, a reflection, experts say, of the stress of rapid-tempo combat operations and multiple deployments. But a majority of those suicides, 295 last year among active-duty personnel, have been committed outside combat zones, mostly in the United States.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
U.S. to send condolences after military suicides.
Amazing to think that people were against this because they thought it would encourage suicide! From NY Times: